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Attending the annual Orange County Ronald McDonald House’s High Tea and Fashion Show at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort is something I always look forward to. My friend Isabelle Villasenor, a longtime OCRMH board member and former event chair, is totally committed to the nonprofit’s efforts to provide low-cost, and often free, lodging and much needed support for families with seriously ill children at local hospitals.

This year’s high tea – its 23rd – was dedicated to the tea’s late founder Gene Widdicombe, who, Isabelle relayed to the sold-out contingent of 450 guests, along with her husband Roland opened the first McDonald’s in Orange County and the 11th McDonald’s in the world in 1956. “Following her husband’s death in 1966,” Isabelle continued, “even though McDonald’s ‘encouraged’ her to sell the restaurant, Gene wouldn’t give up and became the first female McDonald’s owner in the world, thereby paving the way for women like myself to open future restaurants.” Isabelle praised the Widdicombe family for helping open the Orange County Ronald McDonald House in 1989 with their financial support and continued board support to the present day. Gene’s two daughters Patti and Roberta and her granddaughter Samantha were recognized as the tea’s honorary chairs.

Per usual, the tea sandwiches and fresh scones with Devonshire cream were delicious, and the fashion show, anchored by Bloomingdale’s and presented by Fashion Island, brought applause all-round, especially for the male models and Ronald McDonald! Kent French, host and producer at the Honda Center, masterfully presented the live auction items, which featured a Danube Waltz Viking River Cruise for two. But, the coup de grace was bidding on being first in line at the Balboa Club valet following the luncheon. Supporter Shelly Logemann took the prize for $1,000. She must have been in a hurry to be somewhere or has a passionate heart for OCRMH, or both!

Bringing the message home was Julianne and Tyrus Papa, who spent two weeks at Ronald McDonald House while their newly-born daughter Brooklyn, who was born with half a heart, had open heart surgery at CHOC. Even though Brooklyn didn’t make it, Julianne expressed their gratefulness in being able to spend time with their daughter instead of on the freeway traveling back and forth to the hospital.

Together with silent and live auction and raffle prize monies, the effort netted $144,129 for OCRMH, which has welcomed more than 20,000 families since it opened its doors.

Fashion photos by Jon Didier