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Scleroderma Benefit Brings Out a Crowd

TIMES SOCIETY WRITER

Sharon Monsky wished she could have been at City Restaurant in Los Angeles Monday night to see friends and family rally in support of her cause, but she had a good excuse for not attending: Two days before, she had a baby.

Monsky is the founder of the Santa Barbara-based Scleroderma Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization raising money to promote research to find a cure for this disease. Scleroderma is a disease of the connective tissue where collagen is created at a rapid rate, causing tissue to become hardened. It is life-threatening and affects hundreds of thousands of people. Monsky is one of them.

That didn’t stop the former management consultant from living her life or trying to find a cure for the disease. With family and friends, she established the foundation; a little more than two years ago, the first benefit was held at City, and this week saw another night of “Cool Comedy, Hot Cuisine,” as the event was billed. Some $55,000 was raised, with $50,000 to go to research, from the black-tie optional evening, for which guests appeared in everything from tuxedos to jeans and T-shirts.

Those who support Monsky in her efforts seem to do so tirelessly; many came from across the country to attend the dinner. “She is extremely likeable,” said Robert H. Waterman Jr., a founding board member and management consultant who hired Monsky while she was in business school. “She always really cares about what she’s doing, and it makes you want to care, too.”

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Guests mingled for cocktails in the Jan Baum gallery next door to the restaurant, snacking on oysters with shallot and tomatillo sauces, citrus gravlax on corn blinis and liver terrine on brioche while admiring the display of art on pristine white walls. A group called Freeway Philharmonic serenaded the crowd.

Satisfying the paparazzi’s need for celebs were actors Woody Harrelson, Lesley Ann Warren, Linda Gray, Sally Struthers, Mary Kay Place, baseball great Leo Durocher and golfer Hollis Stacy. Comedians Richard Belzer, Rick Overton, Ellen DeGeneres, Reno, Paul Provenza and Mitchell Laurence relaxed before performing their shtick on stage.

Susan Feniger, co-owner of City with Mary Sue Milliken, raced between the gallery and the restaurant, dressed in kitchen whites, strands of hair escaping from her ponytail. A friend of Monsky’s from college days at Pitzer, she and Milliken donated the food and the service.

“Sharon looks great and the baby (a girl) looks great,” said Joe Scher, director of the foundation and Sharon’s father-in-law. As for business matters, Scher said the organization has raised $1.5 million since its last City event, the board of directors has expanded and includes people from across the country, and, “We’re constantly trying to create more awareness.”

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That includes everything from sponsoring celebrity golf tournaments to planning a symposium on the disease for early next year. Scher and the board also are trying to unite other groups raising money to fund research on scleroderma. “We’re trying to bring this all together,” he explained. “We’ve had one meeting that dealt with the human side of the problem, and we’re going to have another this summer. We’re going to get something done.”

The sell-out crowd of 200 migrated from the gallery into the restaurant for a waistline-expanding dinner (potato bhujia with mint chutney and yogurt; arugula, radicchio, gorgonzola and pear salad; marinated tuna; braised duck with Thai red curry and basmati rice, and German chocolate cake with coconut ice cream) and performances by the comedians, followed by a live auction.


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