MS Fund-Raiser Went Nationwide for Singles

Saturday’s “City Lights: The Affair to Remember,” the latest version of the semi-annual singles’ party given by the Multiple Sclerosis Brunch Society, was as much a training session for out-of-town party planners as it was a bash of major proportions.

After five years of presenting these select soirees for young professionals (a group the invitations modestly described as “San Diego’s most eligible men and women”), the Brunch Society decided to share the secrets of its success with representatives of a nationwide sampling of multiple sclerosis societies’ singles’ auxiliaries. Thirty-six showed up, drawn from as far away as Boston and Miami, to attend a day of seminars followed by a long, glittering evening at the William Cowling estate in the exclusive hillside community of Mount Helix.

Soon after the party started, the out-of-towners found themselves at the center of one of the Brunch Society’s typically super-charged maelstroms of activity. After spending a few minutes rubbing shoulders with the 750 finely feathered guests, the visitors discovered that it is the sexual demographics of these events that sparks their noted electricity.

The invitations pictured a top-hatted man with a gorgeous blonde on each arm, a tip-off to prospective ticket buyers that the ratio of women to men at “City Lights” would be roughly 2-to-1. Such is always the case at the spring Brunch Society galas, when each man nominates two women to be anonymously invited to the event; in the fall, when the women throw the party, the situation is reversed.


Other constants are the nature of the party sites, which are always private estates rather than hotel ballrooms; lavish buffets spread with food donated by local restaurants and caterers; dancing; a wide variety of entertainment, and a certain amount of diffident searching for Mr. or Ms. Right.

The “City Lights” upon which the party goers gazed were in El Cajon, and the expansive Cowling estate--built 40 years ago by a member of the Alessio family, and a real showplace--enjoys an unrivaled view from its numerous terraces and lawns. It was in these pleasant nooks that the guests enjoyed such activities as gambling for prizes and consulting a small army of psychics and soothsayers. The Sweetwater Dolphins, the award-winning girls’ precision swim team from Sweetwater High School, performed in the fish-shaped pool.

The event raised $50,000 for patient services provided by the San Diego area chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, which may amount to about one dollar for each hour that the guests collectively spent primping. This was definitely a good-looking crowd, so good that many of the guests called the party “a spring prom for adults.”

About 160 volunteers worked to set Mt. Helix aglow with “City Lights.” Cheryl Rice and Mark Grosvenor served as co-chairmen of a committee that included Joyce Gattas, Dan Floit, Nancy Sprotte, Michael Roberts, Bob Swanson, Jeff Platt, John Mommertz, Barbara Kramer, Ellen Choisser, Gina Zanotti, Ellen Hayes, Gary Aptaker, Jim Frizley, Patrick Thomas and Sharon Letter.


SAN DIEGO--Perhaps more parties than one would care to mention harbor a roving oaf or two, but at the celebration given Wednesday by the San Diego Repertory Theatre to mark the first anniversary of its residence in the new Lyceum Theatre, the program actually listed an official roving oaf.

It was Erik Menyuk’s job to rove--oafishly, of course--about the premises to inform the 400 guests of the numerous performances taking place on the theater’s two stages.

Attired in a plastic trash bag, Menyuk carried a bicycle pump, the prospective use of which escaped understanding at first, although it later became apparent: With more than 60 performers present, the pump could be employed as an emergency ego inflater.

Billed by Rep President Jennifer Hankins as a “cultural swap meet,” the function of the party, like that of the bicycle pump, gradually became apparent. By enlisting the volunteer services of an amazing assortment of actors, musicians, singers, mimes, magicians and others whose hearts have yielded to the siren song of the stage, the Rep neatly advertised the versatility of the handsome spaces it occupies in subterranean quarters beneath Horton Plaza.

To further demonstrate this versatility, every part of the premises was used--there were tours of the catwalks and other normally out-of-bounds areas, performances in the dressing rooms, and, for those who tired of formal entertainment, free hair stylings offered by Jody of The Salon at Horton Plaza.

The obelisk that rises from the center of the theater’s sunken outdoor plaza was surrounded by bouquets of balloons, so that it looked like a monumental Maypole. At 6 p.m., party chairman Jack Berkman stood at the foot of the obelisk, checking his watch and repeatedly commenting that he hoped “the Reagans would be on time.”

At precisely 6:10 p.m., Ron and Nancy, both topped with party hats, came sweeping up to the theater. The pair actually were actors William Anton and Darla Cash, reprising the roles they played in the Rep’s “Rap Master Ronnie,” and their job was to open the festivities. They looked and acted startlingly like the couple they imitated.

Relatively few of the guests arrived in time to witness Rap Master Ronnie’s introduction of the proceedings, but all arrived in time to catch performances by the WildCats, the Dick Braun Swing Band, the Reactions, comedian Mark Eubanks, folk singer Deborah Lee Johnson and a host of others.


Surveying the scene, Rep co-founder Sam Woodhouse said, “This is what we’re all about: art and audiences. Because of our two stages, we’re able to pack eight hours’ worth of entertainment into four.”

The guests also tasted wines donated by California vintners and gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” when Woodhouse and theater co-founder Doug Jacobs blew out the single candle on the immense cake. The candle, fashioned by one of the theater’s prop men, was a reproduction of the Lyceum obelisk.

The committee included Nanci Washburn, Robert MacNamara, Cate Muldoon Roberts, Bonnie Johnston, Tom Ferran and Rebecca Jeffries.

The eighth version of San Diego YWCA’s largest annual fund-raiser attracted 850 guests Friday to the Sheraton Harbor Island’s Champagne Ballroom for a tribute to 98 professional women and the companies that employ them.

The luncheon, called “Tribute to Women in Industry” or “TWIN,” had the dual purpose of honoring women who have made contributions to industry in managerial, executive and professional roles, and of recognizing the firms that, as several Y officials said, are “allowing these women to succeed.” The $40,000 in proceeds from the evening will be shared by several YWCA programs.

COX Cable general manager Robert McRann served as honorary chairman and master of ceremonies. He told the crowd that women today play an important role in business: “Without their contribution, today’s businesses would lack fundamental ingredients necessary to compete successfully.”

Barbara Walden, founder of Barbara Walden Cosmetics and regarded as one of the country’s leading black entrepreneurs, gave the keynote address. “The community really needs us,” she said. “It needs us desperately. Women like us have to be involved.”

Walden’s involvement came by a circuitous route; after starting a career as an actress, she discovered that few firms made cosmetics for black women. After launching her firm, she decided to devise products for women of every race, with the result that within the next year she intends to open a factory in China to serve the Chinese.


Among committee members were chairman and co-chairman Sue Maddox and Lynda Israel, Joann Stang, Christie Faires, Betty Haas, Janet Henry-Wahl, Michele Moomaugh, Debbie Gill, Kathy Kalland, Lorrie Moore and Susan Rose Salisbury.