Orange County has become the center of the world of charitable galas.
Arguably, there are more fundraising extravaganzas night after night and week after week, not just during the social season but throughout the year, than anywhere else. Intense competition has created a flurry of innovative conceptual design aimed at attracting the local crowd and, perhaps more importantly, corralling the generous citizens who fund all of the charitable and civic causes.
With this in mind, the Pacific Symphony themed its 2014 gala, "By the Sea," around the concept of recreating a seaside amusement park reminiscent of the attractions that were built up and down the California coast in the early 20th century.
Some 400 patrons, dressed in obligatory black tie and glitter or in period costume reflecting the era, arrived at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa for a Saturday evening carnival experience May 31. The majestic seaside hotel had been transformed to resemble the Long Beach Pike pier, built in 1902.
Chaired by much-admired Orange County philanthropists Joann Leatherby and her husband, Greg Bates, the gala by the sea marked a milestone for the Pacific Symphony — 35 years in Orange County. With considerable enthusiasm, Leatherby announced that the evening raised $1.6 million for the orchestra, setting an all-time record.
Major support for the orchestra came from Mary and John Tu, Sheila and Jim Peterson, and Ellie and Mike Gordon, as well as from chairs Leatherby and Bates. Also supporting the event were Tim Stanley and Sally Verdugt, Ann and Peter West, Ling and Charlie Zhang, and Pat and Bill Podlich.
The crowd danced the night away to the phenomenal music of JT and Friends and concluded the carnival experience with a late-night dessert assortment of traditional carnival fare highlighted by amazing caramel and chocolate apples.
20 years at Laura's House
It is surely one of the classiest spots in Newport Beach to hold an event. The handsome clubhouse at Big Canyon Country Club welcomed 125 guests in elegant summer attire for the third annual "Wine and Dine" event benefiting Laura's House.
The Friday night affair welcomed generous donors in advance of the organization's 20th-anniversary gala, which will be held Oct. 4 in the grand ballroom of the Balboa Bay Resort and led by honorary chair Donna Pickup. Laura's House has served for two decades in assisting those affected by domestic violence.
Margaret Bayston, CEO and executive director of Laura's House, was on hand at Big Canyon, joining major supporters Dr. Frank Murray, Linda Kearns, Brenda Zalke and Yvette Peo. The evening featured a vast array of wines provided by vintners from all over California and as far away as the Loire Valley in France.
Major donors supporting the cause included Richard and Donna Pickup, with son and daughter-in-law, Todd and Natalie Pickup, Dominic Barton, Rachel Arndt, Henry Canales, Donna Davis, Adam Dodge, the Rev. John Huffman and his wife Anne, Joe Moody, Joel Shapiro and Nancy Tullos.
Back in the charity limelight
A private luncheon celebration at the tony Pacific Club in Newport Beach, chaired by Barbara and Mark Johnson, welcomed a VIP crowd in support of Chapman University's American Celebration.
The recent kick-off luncheon was created to announce Chapman's ambitious fundraising drive, which exceeded the $2-million mark with all funds earmarked for scholarships. The Johnsons are well known for their philanthropic work in Orange County. For a number of years, Mark Johnson chaired the board at the formerly named Orange County Performing Arts Center.
The medical products mogul and his talented writer wife threw what were at the time considered the grandest A-list charitable parties on the coast at their expansive estate in the hills of Orange. Mark and Barbara retired a bit from the gala circuit to concentrate on equally worthwhile endeavors.
Today, Mark, among many other responsibilities, serves as a professor of political science at Chapman, and Barbara continues to submit her politically charged blog column for readers internationally. The Johnsons joined Brenda and Michael Carver, Catherine and Jim Emmi, Julianne and George Argyros and Marybelle and S. Paul Musco in welcoming the crowd at the Pacific Club.
The luncheon also recognized Chapman's Citizens of the Year, mega-mogul attorney Wylie Aitken and his charming wife, Bette.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.