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A Tribute to Msgr. Eagen and Shelter

In 1988, Dr. Robert Runcie, archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the Church of England, awarded a trophy to the St. Vincent de Paul-Joan Kroc Center that named it the premier shelter on the planet.

That trophy was on display Saturday in the downtown Marriott’s San Diego Ballroom, but the spotlight shone even brighter on Msgr. I. Brent Eagen, named “A Man for All Seasons” by both the organizers of the fund-raiser to benefit St. Vincent and the 800 guests who gathered to applaud the man who is known fondly by many as “the Silver Fox.” Since 1968, Eagen has juggled responsibilities as chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, pastor of the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala and chaplain of the San Diego Chargers.

The tribute marked a change in direction for the annual St. Vincent benefit, which previously has been something of a warm-up for St. Patrick’s Day. Linda Katz, who shared general chairmanship duties with her husband, Mel, and with Jan and Mike Madigan, said that, since “A Man for All Seasons” was chosen as the focus, the theme aimed at a feeling of Old World sophistication. Thus, shamrocks (one year, baskets of Irish potatoes decorated the tables) were discarded in favor of clusters of potted Easter lilies, a handsome gesture that meant three days of work for decorations honcho Karen Speidel, whose job was to glue sheet moss to each of the 460 pots.

The week ended with a somewhat mind-boggling number of major benefits--most of them held at the San Diego Marriott, which seems for the moment to have virtually cornered the charity market--but the Eagen tribute brought out the largest crowd of all. The honorary committee list read like a roster of community leaders and included Kathy and George Pardee, Ernest and Jean Hahn, Episcopal Bishop C. Brinkley Morton, Kathryn and James Colachis, Jane Guymon, Rabbi Michael Sternfield, Joanne and Frank Warren, Linda and Frank Alessio, Mary and Bruce Hazard, and Betsy and Doug Manchester; the Hazards and Manchesters underwrote the dinner.

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Jan Madigan said the event sold out early, a situation that disappointed those turned away but resulted in remarkable net proceeds.

“It’s just great when you have a total sell-out,” said Madigan. “We’re going to make $210,000, honest to God!”

“Isn’t that something?” commented Madigan’s co-chair, Linda Katz. “We were able to do it because of Msgr. Eagen. He’s never been honored before in town, even though he’s done so much for San Diego, and I think that’s really the key--people called all week asking for tickets, and many of those who couldn’t get in still sent contributions.”

“This money provides an opportunity of hope to the children,” said Msgr. Joe Carroll, director of the St. Vincent center. “It also proves that San Diego cares.”

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The proceeds are earmarked specifically for childrens’ programs at the downtown homeless shelter. Among specific services noted by the program are after-school and tutorial programs, meals and shelter, as well as a few less tangible benefits, one of which was described as “a parent who is not so frightened or exhausted worrying about tomorrow that there is no time for a hug today.”

Eagen, who was surrounded by a constant crush of well-wishers through the lengthy cocktail hour, seemed to take the attention in stride, although he was self-effacing when it came to accepting the honor. “The cause is the important thing,” he said. “That’s what I’m excited about, the fact that these children will be helped. I’m just pleased to be part of the program.”

The evening progressed with a certain decorum. After the dinner, of seafood-stuffed artichokes and medallions of beef tenderloin, the brief formal program--interrupted by several standing ovations--centered mainly on a videotaped tribute to Eagen that also showed scenes of daily life at the St. Vincent shelter. The event concluded with dancing to the Sterling orchestra.

Tijuana Bishop Emilio Berlie joined Bishop Leo Maher at a table hosted by trans-border philanthropist Yolanda Walther-Meade. Among others present were Bill and Lollie Nelson, Pat and Maggie Crowell, Jack and Lynn Stedd White, Helen Anne Bunn, Roger and Judy Benson, Rick Smith, Janet Gallison with Walter Fitch, Cush and Betty Dow, and San Diego State University President Tom Day and his wife, Anne.

The full San Diego Symphony Orchestra went on a field trip Friday to Marriott Hall, but not just to fiddle around.

Resplendent in white dinner jackets, the orchestra made an unprecedented appearance at the annual fashion luncheon presented by the symphony’s Auxiliary Council. The downtown Marriott’s largest ballroom proved just large enough to accommodate both the immense stage and ramp required by the concert cum clothes fest, and the 650 guests.

The event generated intense excitement among the many lifelong symphony supporters in the crowd, so much so that more than half attended at the top-price patrons category. This fact pleased chairwoman Luba Johnston so much that, during the luncheon, she congratulated the group for its wisdom in attending.

“You can’t have a wonderful party without wonderful people, so congratulations to all of you for being here,” said Johnston.

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During the cocktail reception, co-chairwoman Virginia Monday said luring the orchestra to the show was a genuine coup for the committee, since it was the first time in the symphony’s 60-year history that it had agreed to play for the annual women’s luncheon. (Monday, who chaired the final three Combo galas as well as other major events before taking a lengthy hiatus from fund-raising, will chair the May 1 Celebrity Sports Stars show to be given for the San Diego Hall of Champions at the Town & Country.)

It was probably inevitable that the committee chose “Symphony of Fashion” as the name of the event, but it did suit the day. The orchestra offered Shostakovich’s “Festival Overture” straight through the spinach salad, the usual roar of voices suppressed to a hushed babble under the baton of conductor Richard Amos. The musicians departed before the poached salmon, however, and did not return until designer Michael Novarese, who presented his Spring collection, had told the audience that having the orchestra play for the show would be “an interesting marriage.”

At times, in fact, it seemed like the marriage of Figaro, since the orchestra swung through a cheerful selection of Broadway standards while the models marched down the long, flower-decked ramp wearing severe expressions that might better have been accompanied by a dirge. Yet the presentation of music and gowns made for a unique and in many ways exhilarating combination, the violins tittering at a collection of pastel dresses, the oboes percolating for a sultry march of cocktail ensembles. In the audience, there was more agreement over the music than the clothes, which one observer described as “Barbara Bush fashions.”

The close of the show brought applause not only for the orchestra, but for a day that many called a landmark occasion. The response, in fact, prompted Symphony President Elsie Weston to pledge that the orchestra will play at next year’s event. “It was such a smash hit that we’ve got to do it again,” she said.


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