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DSC_0046The Women of Chapman’s sold-out fundraiser, “Christmas at The Ritz,” at The Ritz Restaurant in Newport Beach is always a favorite of mine. I’ve chaired the event and have been on the committee for many years. This year’s benefit proved once again to be a great launch of the holiday season. Santa (aka Tim Connaghan) was the perfect Father Christmas – real beard and all! – and the Dickens’ carolers, a party fixture, entertained with great gusto the songs of the season. Chair Kim Smith and President Kathy Hamilton joined Chapman President Jim Doti and Grand Patrons Deedee and Don Sodaro in greeting the 350 guests, as guests were then guided from the receiving line to the garden patio for sips of Kir Royales, cosmo and apple martinis – thanks to Blue Ice Vodka – and purchasing those coveted opportunity prize tickets.

Guests continued celebrating at lunch, as once again The Ritz Egg with its dollop of caviar was a big hit and models dressed in must-have fashions from Mi Place in Corona del Mar Plaza proved quite the draw as they sauntered through the dining rooms. The big winners in the opportunity prize drawing were former Christmas at The Ritz chair Sandy Chiles, who won the stunning Harry Winston diamond earrings valued at $12,500, and Debbie Douglas, who won the Deluxe Wine Country Package. WOC board member Jacqui Penner really racked up the prizes! She won three of them – the Desert Getaway, The Balboa Bay Club package and OnQueStyle $500 gift certificate and a Blue Ice Martini Party for 30 guests.

The major underwriters included the Sodaros, Janet Curci and the Curci Family Foundation, Sally Segerstrom, Kim Smith and the Smith/Walker Foundation, Zee Allred, Kathy & Noel Hamilton/Wells Fargo Bank, Rusty & Bill Hood, Donna & David Janes, Donna F. Calvert, Leslie & Dino Cancellieri, Patti & Jim Edwards, Joann Leatherby, Anne & Dan Manassero, Bette & Wylie Aitken, Julia & George Argyros, Sally & Randy Crockett, Catherine & James Emmi, Ruth Ann Moriarty, Donna Bianchi and Dan Avidan, Charlene Prager, Eve & Michael Ruffatto, Carole & Robert Follman, and Sue and Dave Hook.

Good cheer abounded, with guests departing with cigars for the men and camisoles from Mi Place for the ladies, plus each couple received President Doti’s just-released children’s book titled, “Jimmy Finds His Voice,” about his growing-up years in Chicago’s Little Italy. The effort netted $188,355 for the Women of Chapman’s two pledge commitments – $1 million for Chapman’s new Musco Center for the Arts and $500,000 for Dodge College’s Millennial Studios.

About Santa: Later we learned that Santa is chairman of his own company, The Kringle Group, which supplies Santas throughout the country. Connaghan himself had recently opened the New York Stock Exchange, the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall and was Macy’s Santa on opening day. There was also a front-cover, full-page photo of him on the beach with a real live reindeer in The Orange County Register on Christmas Day!

Photos: Peggy O’Donnell