The Crowd: Wonders from the private sector

There are some folks who protest the fact that expensive tickets to charitable galas are elitist. Women dressed in floor-length gowns and men in black ties reflect a past sensibility not relevant in modern society.

In an age where folks feel it is appropriate to wear T-shirts to church and flip-flops to the wedding of a friend, you must ask the question, cliché or not, "Do clothes make the man or woman?"

The answer is no. It has always been no. Clothes never trump the essential qualities of human interaction. However, appearance does equate with something important in the equation. That something is respect. Respect for a cause or purpose, an idea, a goal, and for fellow human beings.

Last Friday evening in the O.C., 430 citizens converged upon the Segerstrom Center for the Arts for the 39th Annual Candlelight Concert dinner and fundraiser benefiting what is arguably the cornerstone of civilized culture in this community. Nearly $1 million was raised from corporate and individual patrons donating thousands of dollars per person to attend. While such largess may be dubbed elitist by virtue of the affordability factor, it must also be labeled as generous, and even unselfish, inasmuch as funds raised support cultural enrichment and education programs offered by the center, touching the lives of some 325,000 young people who might otherwise have no exposure to professional music, dance, theater and other artistic endeavors presented each year.

It would seem that the consequence of such grand behavior is in fact democratic — the sharing of benefits made possible by those able to contribute giving to those not able. This is a quintessential American concept that is being hotly debated on the national stage as government tries to come to compromise over taxation of the wealthy.

The difference, of course, is the voluntary contributions of private citizens versus enforced taxation in the name of democratic reform.

Which brings up a serious point. SCFTA is funded by the private sector. The center does not rely on government grants or financial support, and it is considered a national role model for arts sustainability. It is a fact that founder Henry T. Segerstrom is suitably proud of. Segerstrom and his wife, Elizabeth, were among the major underwriters/donors of the 2012 Candlelight affair, joining presenting sponsor Vacheron Constantin represented by jewelry company president Hugues de Pins. Additional major underwriting for the massive gala came from Jane and Jim Driscoll, center board chair Lawrence Higby and his wife, Dee, and an executive committee comprised of local luminaries George and Julia Argyros, Wylie and Bette Aitken, Betty and S.L. Huang, Roger and Tracy Kirwan, Randy and Sally Crockett, Tim and Susan Strader, Charlie and Pat Poss and Dino and Leslie Cancellieri, to name only a few.

This year's party had no chairman, only a committee of citizens working to ensure financial success. The core of the group, some of whom are aforementioned, are counted upon year after year to make a difference. They never say no.

The crowd enjoyed a marvelous dinner catered by the Patina Restaurant Group, led by Executive Chef Ross Pangilinan with support from Gregg Wiele and Carlos Enriquez. VIPs including center President Terry Dwyer and his wife, Amy, Charles and Twyla Martin, Larry and Deborah Bridges, Kent and Carol Wilken, Michael Botsko of Tiffany & Co., Raj and Marta Bhathal, Byron and Ronnie Allumbaugh and Howard and Roberta Ahmanson were treated to the Broadway voice of Tony Award-winning songstress Sutton Foster, who performed two of Stephen Sondheim's most haunting ballads, "Being Alive" and "Anyone Can Whistle." San Francisco rockers Huey Lewis and the News capped the evening with music that filled the dance floor shoulder to shoulder until the Cinderella hour.

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

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