THE CROWD:Guilds event honors Elizabeth Segerstrom

Elizabeth Segerstrom arrived in Orange County a few short years ago, the new wife of business and cultural leader Henry T. Segerstrom, managing partner of South Coast Plaza and visionary behind the Orange County Performing Arts Center — two of Segerstrom's primary roles among countless projects and spheres of influence. Elizabeth was young, beautiful, very chic and accomplished in her own right, although her pedigree was unknown to Orange County. She was, in a very real sense, like the student who transfers into the senior class of high school from another town and is thrown into a crowd of folks who have grown up together. She was an outsider. She was a big-city girl from Manhattan born in Europe and she spoke with a distinct Polish accent. Very petite, exquisitely dressed and ultra feminine, Elizabeth came on the O.C. scene as an instant A-lister. Her husband, after all, is among the most respected, revered and feared in some circles, community leaders. In fact, Henry Segerstrom has earned a national and international reputation as an American philanthropist and business icon.

As the wife and partner of this man, Elizabeth had a challenging role to assume. In addition, it was a role that had belonged to two previous women who had both been visible and prominent members of society. Moreover, Henry's late wife, Renee, who passed away after a private battle with cancer, would have her name along with Henry's as the frontispiece of the highly publicized expansion of the performing arts center. The new young bride, who knew no one and had little familiarity with the community, would be asked to lead and chair the opening of the $200-million-plus grand arts center that would carry the name of her husband's late wife.

Many women would have found the challenge daunting. Not Elizabeth. She stepped into the role with consummate grace. There was some resistance. There were bruised egos, hurt feelings among some who, with reason, felt slighted for their years of contribution. Others wondered how a stranger to Orange County could pull off such a task without longtime connections.

In the end, the center opened in grand style. It was a landmark event in the history of Orange County, and it was accomplished as a team effort as longtime donors, volunteers and staff joined the newcomer on the block to set a new standard for the community.

This week at the Hyatt Regency Irvine, a record number of nearly 700 guests came together for the 12th annual Guilds of The Center fashion show and luncheon honoring Elizabeth Segerstrom. It was the consummate tribute to old Orange County and to the many, many dedicated guild members who have made the performing arts center thrive and prosper, and to one woman who came on the scene intent on becoming part of the family of arts devotees.

There is no question that the event was a power luncheon. Both gents and ladies who care about the community and the center in particular were all front and center. A major runway fashion show by Escada wowed the crowd. Underwriter and donor of fabulous diamond prizes, Black Starr and Frost, delighted one lucky lady Barbara Myers of the Con Gusto Chapter of The Guilds, winner of a one-carat diamond. Additional dazzling opportunity drawings punctuated the afternoon affair, the highlight of which was a warm and gracious video presentation on the history of The Guilds and the life of Elizabeth Segerstrom narrated by Henry Segerstrom.

Chaired by Linda Thauer, with dedicated assistance from Barbara Biniasz, Gilda Pinedo, Patty Lance, Deloris St. John, Caroline Gonzales, Marty Olds, Marilyn McCorkle, Debra McMurry, Gail Daniels and Kay Fukunaga, the fashion show and luncheon raised net proceeds of $250,000. Among the many super-dedicated volunteers deserving mention are Barbara Marceau, Ilana Richmond, Joanne Gates, Bev Sandelman, Joy Owens, Kathy Fleming and Robin Fields.

Post fashion show, which was certainly up to the high standard of the Escada line, the Hyatt served a luncheon that included the famous Segerstrom lima bean soup. Guests were given the recipe as well as a small silk pouch containing the precious beans that were, after all, the backbone of the Segerstrom family legacy, inextricably linked to the county's history. Elizabeth commissioned her elegant Pasadena florist Jacob Maarse to adorn the ballroom with jaw-dropping white-on-white arrangements on every table. Notable local women, including past chairs of The Guilds such as Georgia Spooner, Betty Belden Palmer, Carol Wilken, Patricia Rowley-Robertson, Joann Boswell, Ciel Woodman, Shari Esayian, Janice Johnson, Fiona Tudor, Marlene Short, Sue Feldman, Jeanette Kleist, Diana Connor, Mickey Shannon, Patrice Poidmore, and Gerrie Goodreau, all supporting the work of The Guilds and honoring Elizabeth.

Center President Terry Dwyer thanked the crowd, the event chairs and Escada for their generous participation, then introduced Elizabeth. She came on stage with Henry, who politely stepped into the background. "I want to tell you how much this means to me," she said in a heartfelt address. "You are family," she continued, adding "one big family that cares about one another and about the arts in Orange County. I am so very honored and proud to be a member of your family."

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