350 Make Room for Ronald

Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Is there room in the county for a new charity?

Judging by the inaugural fund-raiser for an Orange County Ronald McDonald House, the answer is an enthusiastic yes.

More than 350 guests paid $250 each to attend Saturday's gala at the Irvine Marriott, which began with illusionists performing at cocktail hour and finished with an after-dinner concert by the magical Della Reese.

In between, guests dined on shrimp and scallops in puff pastry, salad with fresh edible flowers, medallions of lobster and veal and praline mousse.

Ronald McDonald Houses, which are underwritten by Ronald McDonald Children's Charities and local sponsorship, provide low-cost, temporary housing for families of seriously ill children who are hospitalized or receiving outpatient treatment. There are more than 100 such houses worldwide.

Saturday's benefit was the culmination of a fund-raising campaign that began nearly two years ago when Dr. Geni Bennetts, director of hematology/oncology at Childrens Hospital of Orange County, and several colleagues joined forces with the McDonald's Operators' Assn. of Southern California.

According to Bennetts, who is president of the Orange County Ronald McDonald House board of trustees, the proposed 20-bedroom facility will cost about $1.6 million and serve families of children receiving treatment at any county hospital. Ground breaking, on a site in Orange within walking distance of CHOC, is scheduled for Feb. 12.

As part of Saturday's ceremony, the project received a $500,000 check from Fullerton resident Mary Moore Young in honor of her late husband, Bill Moore. Moore was the founder of Golden State Food Corp., the primary supplier of McDonald's restaurants.

Although Young sold the corporation in 1980, two years after her husband's death, she gave $1 million to Ronald McDonald Children's Charities in September, with the direction that half of her donation go toward establishing a Ronald McDonald House in the county.

"I know it doesn't really matter if a (Ronald McDonald) House is located in Hong Kong or Orange County--the purpose is the same," said Young, who attended the benefit with husband Robert Young, her four daughters and their husbands. "But this will be especially meaningful to me because I have lived here for 33 years."

Seated front and center in the hotel's Grand Ballroom, Young wore an elegant purple taffeta Victorian-style gown created by Fullerton designer Michael Nusskern, with whom she is partners in a clothes manufacturing business.

"I always wanted to have a boutique of my own," Young confided with a twinkle in her hazel eyes. "I guess Michael's boutique (in Fullerton) is as close as I'll come."

The benefit netted about $30,000, as well as $80,000 in pledges to be paid over the next five years, according to event chairman Mark Widdicombe, a second-generation McDonald's operator, with three outlets in Garden Grove.

In addition, the group received pledges of $25,000 from John Hastings to underwrite the only remaining bedroom that had not been sponsored, plus $25,000 from Laurence and Cerise Feely to underwrite the playground area.

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