Junior League Celebrates Its 60th : 500 Women Sing Happy Birthday at the Century Plaza

Times Staff Writer

There was a megaton of superwoman power on the dais saluting another megaton of superwoman power when the Junior League of Los Angeles celebrated its age--a graceful 60--this week at the Century Plaza Tower. For the finale, 500 women, young and older, stood, with Pat Meek leading, and sang “Happy Birthday” to themselves as a gigantic white cake with blazing candles was wheeled in.

Petite and brown-haired Eve Lee, president in 1935-36, was among those singing. So was keynoter Jean Webb Vaughan Smith, president in 1954, a former national league president and the wife of former U.S. Attorney General William French Smith.

The league’s first president in 1926, Mrs. C. Gardner Bullis, is deceased. But the numerous presidents who have charted the league’s course since it was founded by 32 community-spirited women under the leadership of Katherine Thomas Jacomini and Henriette Janss Braly to provide a convalescent children’s home, were in the crowd.


Those presidents are the ones who have initiated league projects (today’s members donate more than 100,000 service hours annually) that have resulted in the Docent Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Junior Arts Center and Gallery, Around Town With Ease (the guidebook for the disabled), the Performing Tree, the Alcoholism Information Center, the Victim Assistance Project (aiding victims of violent crime through the district attorney), the Olive Stone Center, the Los Angeles Antiques Show, the Cancer Counseling Line, and the Adolescent Pregnancy ChildWatch program. Just a few.

It was definitely a happy reunion, a warm and gregarious occasion designed by current president Sue Patrick to mesh the ages. “I just love this,” said member Mary Lane sitting next to a league sustainer definitely 30 years her senior. “Thank you for sharing this evening with me.”

A Super Salute

The party was the occasion to salute four “Outstanding Sustainers” (league members over 45). The Superwomen Four are Mary Duque, Jacqueline McMahan, Tamra Dickerson and Lucy Toberman. Each, in turn was introduced by a Superwoman--Mrs. Gabriel Carlos Duque by Carol Patterson (Childrens Hospital volunteer director), Mrs. James McMahan by Wendy Borcherdt (former undersecretary of education), Mrs. Donald Dickerson by Nancy Call (Banning Residence advocate) and Mrs. Homer Toberman by Mary Ripley (social causes). Mary Duque, there with her daughter-in-law Marilyn Duque and namesake granddaughter Mary Duque, was lauded as the president of Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and “as the most dedicated, loved and respected lady I have ever known” and for her single-handed efforts to raise more than $100 million.

Jackie McMahan was praised for her dedicated support of the Brentwood Center for Educational Therapy (a school for autistic) and for the development of a dream, the Angels Attic museum of antique doll houses and miniatures, which supports the school.

Tamra Dickerson was lauded for the co-founding of the Performing Tree, the organization launched to bring cultural arts to schoolchildren after drastic government cuts, and for her selfless dedication to the support of opera.

Lucy Guild Toberman was praised for founding 31 groups, including the Colleagues, Les Amies, the San Marino Auxiliary of Five Acres and for her philanthropic and influential carry-through to government.

In a sense, everyone was a heroine--both the older presidents and members, who recalled wearing white gloves and hats to meetings, as well as the present members. Currently, more than 70% of those have jobs, and many juggle husband, children and home, while assuming serious responsibilities designed to make Los Angeles more livable.

Indeed, the talk of contrast was paramount. Once, members joined at age 21 or so and remained until 40 when they went “sustaining.” A provisional class numbered maybe 25-40. Today, as both Carolyn Milner, president-elect, and Valerie Holberton, a recent president, noted, there are 170 new provisionals and they remain members but 2.7 years, possibly because the pressures of volunteering cannot always be juggled comfortably in a life style that is often dwarfed by the pressures of work.

Mrs. Smith, in her address, noted that in the ‘80s, society is confronted by health and social problems “that no amount of money can solve,” even though there “may be as many as five to six million volunteer organizations in the United States today.” She urged strong community commitments: “It’s by the risk you take. . . . Each of us can make a difference, and we can make a difference.”

It was a positive note, planned by co-celebration chairmen Liz Freston and Julie Prewitt, and enjoyed by a raft of former presidents, among them, Jane Mock from the ‘40s; Lucia Myers, Mary Ripley, Pat Byrne and Julia Dockweiler, all from the ‘50s; Margaret Paterson Carr from the ‘60s; Vilma Pallette, Janice Carpenter, Wendy Borcherdt, Biddy Liebig, Ann Boren, Phoebe Vaccaro, Judy Jones, Jill Smith and Daryn Horton from the ‘70s, and Julie Masterson, Jeanne Mowlds, Val Holberton and Lea Ann King from the ‘80s.

Philanthropic leaders, too, were in abundance: Nancy Wayte, Betty Flower (Tamra Dickerson’s mother), Caroline Liebig, Laurie Bakkensen, Ann Petroni, Robin Patterson, Tricia Burdge, Cate Long, D’Arcy Catron, Iris Ingram, Cindy Norian, Denia Hightower, Linda Pennell, Beth Lowe, Bunny Coberly, Elizabeth Eastman and Barbara Bundy.