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Women of Chapman's 2013 "Christmas at The Ritz" committee, including chair Karly Brown and event co-founder Charlene Prager

Women of Chapman’s 2013 “Christmas at The Ritz” committee, including chair Karly Brown and event co-founder Charlene Prager, front row, center left and right

It was a festive time. It was a poignant time. The 377 guests who attended the Women of Chapman’s 27th Annual “Christmas at The Ritz” holiday fundraiser at The Ritz Restaurant & Garden in Newport Beach did so with bittersweet feelings, knowing it was the final benefit at that location. Having established the beloved fundraiser at the landmark eatery 27 years earlier, thanks to the generosity of the late Hans Prager and his wife and Women of Chapman member Charlene Prager, the benefit had become a much-heralded affair, becoming the place people wanted to be to welcome the Christmas season with a good dose of holiday cheer for a great cause.

People came for the camaraderie, The Ritz Egg, the Wild Mushroom “Cappuccino” Soup, the fabulous opportunity prizes – more about that later! – the cheery fresh faces of the Chapman Student Ambassadors, who help out every year, and the fashions. Any time Neiman Marcus is involved, you know there is going to be a star-studded fashion offering, and this year was no exception, thanks to the luxury store’s PR Director Michaele Hall. Add to that Chapman President Jim Doti’s heartwarming remarks, and everything’s right with the world! This year, Doti had a little extra ammo with the announcement of a $10+ million gift from James and Catherine Emmi. The couple is always among the generous underwriters for the holiday affair, with Catherine a longtime Women of Chapman member. Their gift, Doti announced, was to given to support the university’s significant expansion in the sciences.

“Christmas at The Ritz” chair Karly Brown, looking resplendent in an elegant winter white dress, welcomed everyone and thanked her committee, for which I am a proud member. The ladies making it happen included Laura Baratta, Adrienne Brandes, Donna Calvert, Leslie Cancellieri, Valerie Cope, Barbara Eidson, Kathy Hamilton, Marci Hollander, Rusty Hood, Sue Hook, Nora Jorgensen Johnson, Anne Manassero, Mona Nesseth, Charlene Prager, Kim Smith, Christine Sullivan, WOC President Donna Bianchi, and yours truly. I must state that the committee felt strongly about honoring The Ritz’s Managing Partner Ray Jacobi and Private Party Manager Sharon Virtue for the their constant support and generosity over the years. The beautiful wine-filled holiday baskets we gave them hardly seemed enough.

The opportunity prizes were quite the draw, as a magnificent lapis lazuli life-size heron from W. Constantin Wild & Co. in Ider-Oberstein, Germany, was won by opera star and Chapman artist-in-residence Milena Kitic. The Deluxe Wine Country Package, which included a two-night stay at the four-star Vintner’s Inn, dinner at Thomas Keller’s famous Bouchon Restaurant, and a private one-day wine tour, via Platypus Tours, of top-notch wineries in either Napa/Sonoma or Russian River/Healdsburg. Ferrari-Carano, Cline, Duckhorn, Chalk Hill, Foley-Johnson, Schramsberg and William Seylem were a sampling of the prestigious offerings. WOC member Maria Francis was the lucky winner, and, from what I understand, she took her whole family on the trip, with raves all-round.

Another popular item was the “John Wayne American” bronze sculpture by sculptor David Manuel, as well as an evening for 15 at Leur Lab Integrated Aesthetics in Newport Beach, a David Yurman black onyx, pearl and hematite necklace, dinner at Tony Duquette’s legendary Dawnridge estate in Beverly Hills, a beautiful oil on canvas painting by artist and WOC member Georgeana Ireland Mayle, a Reed Krakoff handbag from Saks Fifth Avenue, a Cynthia DeBaun-designed Baroque freshwater pearl necklace, a Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza fashion and master makeup day for six with lunch at Charlie Palmer, the always-popular South Coast Plaza $1,000 gift certificate and one-year valet pass, $1,000 shopping sprees from Mi Place and Neiman Marcus, a martini party for 25, thanks to Jonathan Ratter, and a Lakers game for four and overnight stay at the Jonathan Club.

Major underwriters for the benefit included Marybelle and S. Paul Musco, Janet Curci, Sally Segerstrom, Zee Allred, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Carole and Robert Follman, Rusty and Bill Hood, Shelley Wankier Hupp, Donna and Dave Janes, Joann Leatherby, Kim Smith/Smith-Walker Foundation, Deedee and Don Sodaro, Laura Baratta, Donna Bianchi and Daniel Avidan, Sandra Brodie, Karly Brown, Donna Calvert, and Dino and Leslie Cancellieri. Combined with many other generous donors, the net proceeds for the affair reached more than $191,000, with monies slated for Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts and Dodge College’s Chapman Studios. The gift favors included a gorgeous miniature Jay Strongwater enamel and gem encrusted frame for the ladies, courtesy of Neiman Marcus, and a first-class cigar for the gents from Hi-Time Cellars and committee member Mona Nesseth.

As I end my story, I wanted to say that even with the demise of The Ritz Restaurant at that location, the fundraiser will continue next year. The benefit is the Women of Chapman’s only means of raising money for Chapman University, so know that next December 6, 2014, “Christmas at The Ritz” will be recreated at a place to be determined. The event committee, headed by the talented and ever-resourceful Adrienne Brandes, has already met and is planning a great party. Just know the holidays will be welcomed in grand style once again!

Selected photos by Peggy O’Donnell and John Saade