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USC Mexican American Group Lauds Some of the School’s Finest

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For as long as USC senior Maricela Rodriguez can remember, her mother has worked as a housekeeper at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. But Friday night, her mother, Maria Orbelina Rodriguez, was the belle of the ball, seated front and center in the posh hotel where she’s worked for 23 years.

Surrounded by an armada of civic and university officials, Rodriguez beamed through her tears as her daughter accepted the USC Mexican American Alumni Assn.'s highest honor, the John R. Hubbard Award for academic excellence and community involvement. Competition for this prize is daunting; 17 academic aces were nominated this year, all of whom have received scholarships from the association.

Maricela, majoring in biochemical engineering, dedicated the award to her mother.

“This is a dream come true,” she said. “My mother has instilled in me the strength and determination to succeed, but I am convinced that students like me would not be where we are today without the assistance of the association.”

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Raul Vargas, director of USC’s Office for Mexican American Programs, founded the association in 1973.

“When we started,” Vargas said, “President Hubbard promised to match every dollar we raised with two university dollars.” (Over the years, the association has awarded $7.2 million to 4,658 students.)

The promise has been kept. Many of the group’s success stories were in the room: Catherine Anaya of CBS News; Pac Bell executive Karime Sanchez Bradvica; Marrs Printing account exec Maria T. Jones; and Martha Tapias-Mansfield, director of strategic and Latino initiatives for the Los Angeles Times.

KABC-AM (790) traffic reporter Jorge Jarrin served as the evening’s auctioneer and sweetened the pot by offering two rides over the Los Angeles basin aboard his chopper. He sold two trips at $1,200 each.

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“At that price,” he noted, “they’re probably expecting a high-speed chase to boot!”

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Witty weatherman Fritz Coleman reprised his role Saturday as honorary chairman of a benefit for Hillsides Home, the 87-year-old Pasadena residential treatment center for abused and neglected children.

The black-tie dinner-dance and auction at the Jonathan Club in downtown L.A. netted $175,000 for the home.

About 350 guests turned out for the evening, chaired by Juli Miller, including “Frasier” producer David Angell and his wife, Lynn, Peri Gilpin, Kathy Baker, Drew Pinsky, Kelly Mack (in a drop-dead dress) and her husband, “Extra” producer Eugene Young, Rosemary and Manny Medrano, Colleen Williams and her husband John Dudley, Kay and Chuck Henry and Suzy and Rick Chambers.

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St. Anne’s, the Southern California agency that has provided services to pregnant and parenting teenagers since 1908, honored one of its favorite angels Saturday at its annual fund-raiser: Frederick J. Ruopp, who heads Chelsea Management Co. when he isn’t overseeing St. Anne’s finances.

Emcee Linda Alvarez, KCBS-TV news anchor, held a touching interview with 19-year-old Laura Romero, a former St. Anne’s resident who became pregnant at 14 and now has a 4-year-old son. She was placed at St. Anne’s when her baby was 8 months old. She completed high school and now attends L.A. City College and hopes to become a veterinarian.

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Catherine Crowley, who worked at St. Anne’s 30 years ago, chaired the event, which raised more than $150,000: “When I retired, I joined the board, because it’s always had a special place in my heart.”

Patt Diroll’s column is published Tuesdays. She can be reached at pattdiroll@earthlink.net.


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