La Patronas Gifts Truly Moving

The Friday luncheon given by Las Patronas in honor of its underwriters and beneficiaries included a bit of show-and-tell.

Steven Goe, administrator of Scripps Memorial Hospital-Encinitas, drove up to the curb of the Atlantis restaurant in the specially equipped transport van donated by the La Jolla philanthropic organization for the use of wheelchair-bound patients. Goe said that the van, the first of its kind in North County, will afford handicapped patients convenient, inexpensive transportation to doctors' appointments, physical therapy sessions and the like.

Las Patronas paid for the van out of the record $420,000 raised by its 41st annual Jewel Ball, "Calypso," given in August at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. The group, with its revolving membership of 50 women who sign on for seven-year tours of duty, has raised $3.2 million since its first Jewel Ball in 1947; virtually every penny (the 1947 ball raised about $1,000 and benefited China Relief) has been donated to San Diego County cultural, charitable, educational, health-care and religious organizations.

The Atlantis would have been rather crowded had Las Patronas' four other major beneficiaries brought along their shares in the group's bounty. The soon-to-be-built Aquarium Museum at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, for example, will purchase a 50,000-gallon tank with its grant, and the San Diego Museum of Art will install the second phase of its new, custom-designed computer system.

The Logan Heights Family Health Center will purchase medical equipment for its new pediatric wing, and the Firehouse 13 Teen/Senior Center of La Jolla will be able to renovate the plumbing and electrical systems of the fire station-turned-community center.

More than 40 minor beneficiaries will receive grants from the organization; one, the Triple Crown Youth Coalition in Southeast San Diego, which works to keep black youths out of gangs, will purchase a van for its activity programs.

The luncheon, the first of its kind in Las Patronas history and, said several, a milestone in the eyes of much of the membership, specifically brought together the beneficiaries with the underwriters who provide much of every Jewel Ball's proceeds. The latter group ranges from small La Jolla merchants to wealthy individuals and some of the county's leading banks and businesses.

Las Patronas formerly mailed checks to its beneficiaries, but past group president Marilyn Bilger said the idea of making the donations in person had become irresistibly attractive.

"It didn't feel right to just stick a check in the mail after all the work we'd gone through," said Bilger.

Current president Dawn Matthiesen said that the payoff for the Las Patronas members--who spend months each year preparing for the open-air ball--is the realization that their efforts directly benefit San Diego.

"The main purpose of the Jewel Ball, the bottom line, is the large amounts of money we can give to worthy organizations in our community," said Matthiessen. "Years after we have funded them, these groups let us know how they continue to benefit from the grants we have made them."

Carolyn Hooper, 1987 ball chairman, presented the checks after the luncheon of London broil and strawberries chantilly . In her brief formal remarks, she noted that if there is a secret behind her organization's success, it is nothing more than simple hard work.

Dick Chapel, executive director of the La Jolla YMCA, which sponsors the Firehouse 13 center, said his organization had to demonstrate significant community support before the city would agree to sign a long-term, $1-per-year lease.

"Las Patronas was one of the first organizations to step forward on our behalf," said Chapel. "San Diego wouldn't be the same without this group."

Richard Fischer of the California Center on Victimology, a minor Las Patronas beneficiary, said "When we come to Las Patronas with a specific need, like a copying machine, they're always eager to help us so we can get on with our work. They're really sophisticated in their understanding of how nonprofit organizations work, and they get involved and stay involved. They don't just send you a check."

Jan Schultz chaired the luncheon, which concluded with an introduction of the 1988 Jewel Ball chairman, Dotti Howe, and her co-chairmen, Carolyn Colwell and Annette Ford. The ball will be called "Stars," a term that relates to many things, but especially the people who will host, attend and benefit from the event.

It was feeding time at the panda enclosure at the San Diego Zoo, and the mammals were restless.

While visions of bamboo shoots presumably danced through the heads of Yuan Yuan and Basi, the ebony-and-ivory visitors from Foochow, China, some 80 chilled, formally dressed onlookers nibbled at lighter-than-air egg rolls and "strange-flavor" eggplant canapes.

The group, all founding members of the American Institute of Wine and Food, made a cocktail hour stop Saturday to take a private peek at the pandas while en route to yet another splashy entertainment organized for this "Safari Weekend" by the institute's San Diego chapter. About half the group was from out of town, including gastronomes from New York, Houston and Ripley, Tenn. Heading up the visitors delegation were guests of honor Vincent Price and his wife, Coral Browne.

Yuan Yuan watched indifferently while Basi balanced on a log, pushed a cart and fanned herself with a bouquet of flowers; however, the activity looked attractively warming to the spectators, who discovered that the zoo's deep canyons do grow chilly after dark, and whose ranks included zoo President Betty Jo Williams. Williams said that the pandas, who soon will depart for their homeland, will be sorely missed by zoo staff and visitors.

"The pandas will be on exhibit only through Feb. 8," said Williams. "We're going to give them a fond farewell and hope that they return often and stay as long as they like."

The group assembled at the zoo after changing from safari clothes to black tie; the East Africa gear had been worn to honor the British colonial luncheon served earlier that day at the Wild Animal Park by vintner Martha Culbertson. (There reportedly were giraffes among the salads.)

Buses shuttled the guests from the zoo to the San Diego Museum of Art, where weekend general chairman Sally Thornton had organized an elaborate Chinese feast in recognition of both the pandas and the impending Year of the Dragon. Drums and dragon dancers greeted the guests at the museum entrance; inside, they were given a tour of the current exhibit, "American Women Artists, 1830-1930," before being seated under the rotunda for a long and decidedly glamorous dinner.

The meal began with cold, spicy noodles, and guests who found chopsticks a touch beyond their abilities were mercifully brought forks, although actor/art collector/gourmet Vincent Price demonstrated that combating slippery noodles with slender wooden sticks is really not all that difficult. Price also invited the strolling Murray Korda Ensemble to his table to play the theme from the film "Laura," the classic 1940s murder-mystery in which he starred with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews.

"I think 'Laura' is about the best score ever written for a movie," said Price, who added that it had not given him immediate satisfaction. "When the movie was filming, I had to sing to Gene Tierney, but the score had not yet been written and I had to sing to some old turkey they pulled out of another movie."

Price's narrative was interrupted by the arrival of the "cosmic chaos" (really, such names!) lobster dumpling soup, which was followed by vegetable-stuffed Buddha buns, an arrangement of spiced, smoked duck breast, and pastries filled with spiced lamb. The meal was the tour de force of San Francisco restaurateur Barbara Tropp, who flew down for the event with much of the staff of her China Moon Cafe.

The guest list included John Thornton, who as a zoo trustee undertook to arrange the visits to the Wild Animal Park and the pandas; museum President Joseph Hibben and his wife, Ingrid; Jodi and Earle Honnen; Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan; Carol and Mark Yorston; Judy and Stephen Smith; Jeanne Jones with James Bowers; Janice and Michael Batter; Elizabeth and Bill Zongker; Veryl and Aage Frederiksen; and committee members Fran Jenkins, Jerrie Strom, and Piret and George Munger.

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