The Crowd: Argyros family passes charitable torch to Three Moms

If you seek verification that Orange County has grown up, the evidence lies simply in the coming of a new generation of community leaders. In some ways it is hard to comprehend that time has passed, not by years, but by decades. The great men and women of the mid-20th century push on out of the bean fields and into the new technology, passing the proverbial torch to a generation coming of age in their 30s and early 40s.

One such family of demonstrable influence recently held a sunset cocktail reception in Newport Beach to promote the philanthropic mission of their daughter and her associates. George Argyros, the former U.S. ambassador to Spain, and his wife, Julia, welcomed a large and supportive crowd at their residence to promote the work of Stephanie Argyros Gehl, Daneia Sanadiki and Krista Lesh Jajonie.

The three young women call their charitable pursuit Three Moms on a Mission. Their purpose is to raise funds for children requiring surgery to repair birth defects associated with a cleft lip. The mission is worldwide, and the three O.C. women work in association with Operation Smile, "changing lives one at a time."

The Three Moms work is more than fundraising. All of them travel the globe on medical missions, working with the doctors and the staff of Operation Smile in remote locations.

This spring, Sanadiki spent time in Vietnam with Operation Smile. She had previously lived in Tunisia for some 10 years, building orphanages. Lesh Jajonie is preparing to join an upcoming international medical mission as well. Recently, the triad traveled to Peru to assist children in remote villages. All three are raising their own young families and feel it is essential to reach out to children not as fortunate as their own.

"This is an example we are setting for our own kids, teaching them humanity, and giving them the opportunity to see a world not as perfect as their own here in Newport Beach," said Argyros Gehl, getting a hug of appreciation from her parents prior to offering a video presentation of their work to the assemblage of O.C. residents seated on white garden chairs on the lawn of the Argyros home, awaiting the sunset for the outdoor video presentation to begin.

Stephanie's son Gunnar was called into action, performing on his guitar for the crowd. The 10-year-old was an opening act of sorts, buying time, singing an original song he wrote about love and playing a very mean guitar.

"What is all this about love?" Julia Argyros asked. "You are 10 years old!"

Gunnar declined comment, and the crowd offered thunderous applause.

Supporting the Moms were Larry and Dee Higby, Byron Tarnutzer, Sheila Prell Sonenshine, Patti Edwards, Patricia Gehl, the Rev. John Huffman and his wife, Ann, and Hyla and Richard Bertea.

Others supporting the efforts included Richard Merage, Paul Makarechian, Jeff Glowacki, Janice and Rob Hess, Kalyn Shah, Erin and Eva Curci, Robin and Jeff Fox, Ellen Weinstein, Trish O'Donnell, Dave and Cheryl Ball, and former California Gov. Gray Davis and his wife, Sharon, to name a few dedicated donors and supporters of the work of Operation Smile.

As local entertainer Jim Roberts sang his repertoire of standards from "The Great American Songbook," and an army of catering staff passed the final round of hors d' oeuvres and cocktails, the crowd of O.C. business and community leaders shared a moment of realization that they were witnessing the passing of the charitable torch from generation to generation in a family with very strong ties to this community.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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