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Joining me at MDA's Gift of Hope benefit are, from left Man and Woman of the Year, Jeff Reuter and Charlene Prager, and committee member and Ray Jacobi

Joining me at MDA’s Gift of Hope Gala are, from left Man and Woman of the Year, Jeff Reuter and Charlene Prager, and committee member and presenter Ray Jacobi

The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s 18th Annual Gift of Hope Gala, held at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, honored two very special people this year. Charlene Prager (The Ritz Restaurant & Garden) and Jeff Reuter (3 Thirty 3 Waterfront and DivBar Bayfront Kitchen) were lauded as the nonprofit’s Woman and Man of the Year.

I’ve know Charlene for 25 years, and I remember with fond affection her years running The Ritz with the love of her life, the late Hans Prager. They were an awesome duo! Not only were they committed to offering the community a top-notch eatery, but they were so generous to charities. I can attest to one charity they helped that is still using The Ritz as the venue for their annual holiday fundraiser. The Women of Chapman will celebrate its 27th annual “Christmas at The Ritz” at the famous restaurant this December. And, sadly, it will be our last fundraiser there because, as you are probably aware, The Ritz has lost its lease, and the Irvine Company is building a high-rise on that spot. What a shame – so much history lost!!

One person at the gala who was very much aware of the Ritz’s history was its current Managing Partner Ray Jacobi. “When you look back at what Hans and Charlene Prager have given to this community over the years, the legend lives on,” Ray said. Referring to Jeff Reuter, Ray’s best friend, he said, “He needed a liver transplant and had three days to live when the angel called. He is living proof of giving back.”

In talking to the honorees before dinner, Char shared, “Hans taught me what giving is all about. His philosophy was the more you give, the more you receive.” Jeff, a longtime member of MDA, said of the nonprofit, “I love their kids’ summer camp. It has always touched my heart.”

Those in charge of the benefit were Frank Di Bella and S. Paul Musco, both of whom are vice presidents of MDA National. The crowd of more than 280 guests enjoyed a silent auction cocktail reception on the patio followed by dinner, live auction, the awards presentation, and dancing to the sounds of the Tino Productions band. Chef Jamie Gwen kept things lively as mistress of ceremonies and former All American USC and NFL quarterback Paul McDonald, who is currently USC football’s color analyst, served as event auctioneer. The live auction, which raised $62,000 – the highest grossing live auction figure to date for the fundraiser – featured some tempting items, including a seven-day European vacation and a private tour of the New York Stock Exchange.

Other heartwarming moments included former MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Abbey Umali singing “You Raise Me Up,” made famous by Josh Groban, and a surprise tribute to Frank DiBella, who has been supporting MDA for more than 20 years. And, finally, when current MDA Orange County Goodwill Ambassador Kennedy Montoya spoke about how much he loved MDA’s Summer Camp, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

The effort netted more than $287,000 to make it possible for kids to attend MDA’s Summer Camp and for research dedicated to finding a cure for muscular dystrophy, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It was, as Ray said, an evening of “heart and emotion.”

Selected photos by Michael Munson

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