R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : A Wonderful Glow : Supporters of the Performing Arts Center Bask in Warmth of Candlelight Concert


Not only was there no mention of bankruptcy on stage at Sunday’s Candlelight Concert, the mood was so jolly you’d have thought Orange County had just declared a surplus.

“This is a wonderful room, a wonderful feeling,” said Tom Nielsen, chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, during his remarks at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

And then, praising the 600-strong, can-do crowd, he said: “There have been 21 years of Candlelight Concerts and only eight years of the Performing Arts Center. A lot of people had a dream many years ago of what was possible. That is what we are celebrating tonight.”


The upbeat mood was heightened by the lush ballroom decor at the English-themed affair. Towering evergreens strung with gold twinkle-lights lined the walls, and tables were topped with fruit-and-flower laden topiaries. Table favors were English crackers, gaily wrapped cylinders that crackled when guests pulled a string. Buried inside were plastic toys and paper party hats. (Gala hostesses take note: Elegant gold bamboo-motif chairs had this event looking like a page right out of “Tiffany Parties.”)

The only solemn moment at the $250-per-person, black-tie benefit sponsored by the center’s board of directors came when Nielsen called for a “few moments of silence” in honor of the late Hal Segerstrom, the arts supporter who died earlier this year.

A respectful hush fell over the room as guests bowed their heads in remembrance of Segerstrom, whose widow, Jeanette, was unable to attend the affair.

Before dinner, concert underwriters and committee members gathered in the hotel’s Ciao Mein restaurant for champagne and appetizers. (Donors of $10,000 were presented with crystal bowls from Georg Jensen. Donors of $5,000 to the concert were given crystal candlesticks donated by Tiffany & Co.)

On hand to congratulate gala chairwoman Catherine Thyen, who wore a forest-green ball gown “so I’d blend in with the Christmas trees,” she said, were Henry and Renee Segerstrom (glamorous in a gold lame gown), Judie and George Argyros, Maralou and Jerry Harrington, Mark Johnson and Ted and Mary Jean Simpkins.

Other major center donors hobnobbing at the affair, which raked in $135,00 for the center’s programming and operating expenses, included Arden Flamson, Michelle Rohe, George and Arlene Cheng, Carol and Kent Wilken, Joan and Don Beall, and Thomas Kendrick and Judy O’Dea Morr.


Following a sit-down repast of the Queen’s Salmon Souffle with asparagus and caviar sauce, Cumberland wild field green salad and Windsor veal tenderloin, guests heard performances by the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Chorale’s adult and children’s choruses with guest appearances by mezzo-soprano Heidi Herzog and boy soprano Colin Nelson.

Tidbit: When the chorale sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the lyrics included “And a wedding date for Carl St.Clair”--a reference to the 42-year-old Pacific Symphony conductor, who recently announced his plan to marry Susan Cunningham, 29.


Interfaith Shelter tea: A record-crowd of more than 200 attended the annual Orange County Interfaith Shelter tea and luncheon last week at the Irvine Cove home of Ellie Gordon.

Guests in holiday finery oohed and ahhed over the ocean view at Gordon’s 5,000 square-foot Mediterranean digs, situated on a hilltop.

A past president of FOCIS (Friends of the Orange County Interfaith Shelter), a support group committed to raising a minimum of $60,000 a year for the Costa Mesa shelter, Gordon can’t imagine living a life that doesn’t include volunteerism.

“Part of the Jewish heritage is to give tzedakah to people who are less fortunate,” she said. “My first remembrance of giving was a little blue box my mother and father kept in the kitchen. We would put change in it for charity. It wasn’t that there was a lot to give . . . but we learned to give it.”


Now, living in palatial surroundings with plenty of food and clothing, Gordon is grateful for her blessed life. And, because of her work with the shelter--where 3,000 homeless families are assisted yearly--she knows it could change in a heartbeat.

“You never know when a turn of events could put you in the same position,” she said. “When you listen to the stories of people in the shelter, you learn they are there because of terrible circumstances--the loss of a job or a terrible illness.

“We are very fortunate to be in this position. And it’s our responsibility to give something back.”

Among guests at the tea were FOCIS president Lois Jacobs, shelter board president Diana Hensley and board member Judy Cooper.