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The Crowd: Oceana fundraiser as star-studded as ever

Celebrity connections can make all the difference for nonprofits attempting to attract a crowd to the cause.

On a decidedly more local level, Oceana, the international organization dedicated to protecting the world's ocean environment, held its eighth annual "SeaChange" extravaganza Aug. 1 in two massive white tents erected on an oceanfront bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point. Headlining the sold-out party were two Hollywood stars Jon Hamm and January Jones.

Given the connection, organizers billed the affair as "Mad for the Oceans," playing off the title of the uber-popular canceled television series "Mad Men." The couple's TV daughter Kiernan Shipka was also in attendance.

Joining the celebrity crew were dedicated ocean environmentalists actor Sam Waterston, most recognized for his long-running role on "Law and Order," along with Beth Behrs. In recent past years Oceana has hosted such stars as Leonardo di Caprio, Jeff Bridges and Ted Danson. The Hollywood draw always assists organizers in selling out the event.

This season was no exception. Co-chairs of the massive undertaking — which has more moving parts than a military expedition to a deserted island — Valarie Van Cleve and Eve Kornyei Ruffatto did an exemplary job of bringing out all the big guns to raise maximum funds for Oceana.

This despite a venue change this year from the romantic Cahill estate high atop Laguna Beach to the tented expanse overlooking the ocean in Dana Point. They had their work cut out carrying on the tradition that they had established previously making the Oceana event the absolute best party of the summer on the coast.

Addressing the massive audience in the tent, Jon Hamm told the OC crowd, "I love the ocean, I swim in it," which seemed somewhat obvious to many.

"I don't care what he says," confided one women demanding anonymity. "I told my husband that he's the one, the only one, I'd leave him for."

There you go. It's all about the importance of celebrity connections, nothing else matters.

January Jones was a bit more to the point, sharing her concern for the manner in which sharks are being fished and mistreated in oceans worldwide.

"I've long been a supporter of Oceana and have been fortunate enough to work with them on their efforts to save sharks," Jones told the crowd. "These are some of the most fascinating — and threatened — creatures in our oceans."

It should be noted that Jones also serves Oceana as a worldwide ambassador.

The glamorous hostesses, Van Cleve and Ruffatto, both adorned in spectacular summer jewels courtesy of Winston Crown Jewelers, Newport Beach, mingled with O.C. royalty, including the beautiful Tricia Berns and husband Michael Berns, Wendy and Rick Aversano, Julie and Peter Hill, Jean and Tim Weiss, Brit and Robert Meyer, and Janet and Carl Nolet.

O.C. support, including Leslie and Dino Cancellieri, Maralou and Jerry Harrington, Mary and John Carrington, Fiona and Ted Benson and Laurie Rodnick with Thomas Moore mingled with the Hollywood crowd including Billy Joe Armstrong, Michael Gladis, Aimee Teegarden, Nolan Gould, Oscar Nunez, Leanor Varela, Lillimar Hernandez, and our very own native son and Olympic swimming champ Aaron Peirsol.

The crowd of some 400 patrons had come to pay tribute to Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence and author of an upcoming book titled "Pristine Seas: Journeys to the Ocean's Last Wild Places." The founder and leader of the National Geographic Society's "Pristine Seas Project," Sala ranks as a world expert on ocean conservation.

"Protecting the ocean must be a collective effort that involves each and every one of us every day," Sala said to the crowd. "With the support of organizations like Oceana and National Geographic, we can and will make a difference for the ocean — whether through individual choices or combined action."

As the crowd dined on a seafood dinner, quite appropriate since one of Oceana's themes is "Save The Oceans: Feed The World" — given that some three-quarters of the human population is sustained by food from the sea on a daily basis — Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless discussed current facts concerning the organization's worldwide efforts.

"Thanks to our SeaChange supporters, Oceana has grown tremendously in the past few years, tackling problems that are global in nature with a country-by-country approach that's achieving measurable results," Sharpless said. "Oceana has now protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and achieved dozens of policy victories that will protect these places for the future."

Following dinner speeches, an auction brought in dollars for the cause thanks to merchant donors such as Corum, Mikimoto, Pucci, Versace, Armani, Bottega, Fendi, and so many more. It was like South Coast Plaza picked up and came to the tent on the beach.

Also lending a big hand was BMW, auctioning off one of its smart new BMWi8 electric sports cars. Travel options to exotic ports sold with gusto and one bidder left for their trip with a custom set of Vuitton luggage. Simply over the top.

As the night progressed, guests sauntered out of the dinner tent into what had been the cocktail tent and was now a late-night lounge. Actress and singer Bethan Joy Lenz delivered her song styling as guests Elizabeth An and Gordon Clune, Betsy and Andy Ackerman, Soogie and Don Kang, Nancy and Jim Salomon, Carol and Dennis Berryman, Barbara and Greg MacGillivray, and Bonnie Lee and Justin Pham celebrated the close of the evening with mini "pigs in a blanket" and other comfort foods served until the Cinderella hour.

To learn more about the work of Oceana, visit www.oceana.org.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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