The Crowd: Fall gala season decidedly underway in O.C.

Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte with patrons Susan and Tim Strader.
Pacific Symphony President John Forsyte with patrons Susan and Tim Strader at the 2021 Season Opening Night Symphony Gala.
(Courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

The premiere of Art Sense Gala debuted Oct. 8 on behalf of the Orange County Museum of Art and a cool million was raised for the museum one year in advance of its official public opening, set for October 2022.

The big event unfolded at the construction site located on the property rising at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. The modern architectural statement is in the creative hands of Morphosis Architects, under the director of Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne and partner-in-charge Brandon Welling.

 Heidi Zuckerman, from left, Thom Mayne and Carlos Gonzalez attend Art Sense Gala for OCMA.
Heidi Zuckerman, OCMA’s CEO and director, left, is shown with architect Thom Mayne and Carlos Gonzalez at the Oct. 8 OCMA Art Sense Gala at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
(Ryan Miller)

Both designers attended the gala, greeting some 280 patrons along with museum chief executive and director Heidi Zuckerman, attired in a stunning vintage 1970s Victor Costa iridescent deep burgundy purple silk taffeta strapless gown. It was art in fashion, making a statement.

OCMA trustee and partner of South Coast Plaza West, Anton Segerstrom, joined fellow underwriters Robert and Britt Meyer, Erica and Jerry Fink, Lisa and Richard Merage, Ygal and Sheila Sonenshine, and another artistically fashionable patron, Elizabeth Segerstrom.

 Anoosheh Oskouian is flanked by two masked guests during the 2021 OCMA Art Sense Gala.
Anoosheh Oskouian poses with two masked guests during the 2021 OCMA Art Sense Gala at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Oct. 8 in Costa Mesa.
(Ryan Miller)

The crowd sampled noteworthy wines offered by Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher that were paired with caviar provided by Pearl Street Caviar, relishing the chic atmosphere designed by Leproux Collective.

Vodka baron Carl Nolet and his wife, Janet, were front and center with mega-car dealer Ken Grody and his wife, Stephanie.

Sean and Aga Green, Lucy Sun and Warren Wilson, Marta and Ray Bethal were all dining with major sponsors Idit and Moti Ferder of Lugano Diamonds, responsible for a $2.5-million grant establishing free admission for the public over the first decade of operation of OCMA. Lead sponsors of the night included Sotheby’s and J.P. Morgan.

The fall social season on the Orange Coast came alive with Pacific Symphony’s Opening Night Celebration, this year billed as “A Notable Gathering.” Chaired by the incomparable Judy Whitmore, a businesswoman, philanthropist and talented performer as well, the big event honored Segerstrom family members Sally Segerstrom, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Susie and Steve Perry, and Rae and Ted Segerstrom. This long-standing dedication to the symphony is an homage to the influence of their late mother Jeanette Segerstrom, whose passion for classical music was installed in her children.

Pacific Symphony Gala Event Chair Judy Whitmore with husband Wes Whitmore at opening night dinner and concert.
(Courtesy of Pacific Symphony)

Fittingly, opening night of the 2021-22 season sponsored by the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical Series, featured “Emanuel Ax plays Mozart.” Some 200 patrons raised $300,000 to benefit the symphony’s artistic, education, and community engagement programs. Welcoming the dedicated assemblage were symphony president and chief executive John Forsyte, joining Music Director Car St. Clair in praising the crowd for decades of support.

In particular, Forsyte lauded the Segerstrom Family Foundation. “Tonight, we celebrate the 21st anniversary of the naming of the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Classical Series. Their magnificent investment ensures this series features world class artists like Emanuel Ax, large orchestral works like Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and to commission new music such as that from an important American composer, Wayne Oquin.”

Also honored on opening night was special guest Simon Woods, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras. The evening chair Judy Whitmore attending with husband Wes Whitmore, expressed the shared mood of the symphony crowd best, “Tonight’s theme for the evening, ‘A Notable Gathering,’ honors not only the Symphony’s return to the concert hall, but also our resilience during the pandemic. We acknowledge, with gratitude, our remarkable Pacific Symphony family that made it possible.”

Another of the O.C.’s most treasured seasonal events sidelined in 2020 due to the pandemic, returned with great enthusiasm. “Romance of the Mission,” presented by the Mission Preservation Foundation, brought together some 350 patrons Sept. 17 under the historic shadows of the 18th century mission’s Great Stone Church in San Juan Capistrano.

Kerry and Gavin Herbert Sr. with Mission San Juan executive director Mechelle Lawrence Adams.
Kerry and Gavin Herbert Sr. with Mission San Juan executive director Mechelle Lawrence Adams attending 2021 Romance of the Mission Dinner and Concert.
(Lisa Renee Photography)

The crowd shared libations in a pre-dinner concert reception in the Mission’s courtyard gardens greeted by executive director of the Mission, Mechelle Lawrence Adams. Gala proceeds exceeded $650,000.

“Romance of the Mission” was indeed also a return to the mission and the 2021 celebration was dedicated to Connie and Dr. Peter Spenuzza. Mission Preservation board chair George O’Connell thanked the Spenuzzas for their legacy of philanthropy, especially noting Connie Spenuzza’s service as board of director chair for the Preservation Foundation Board for more than 15 years.

Post reception the sponsors were treated to a private concert by Loren Allred, best known for her stirring recording of “Never Enough” from the film soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman” (one of this columnist’s all time favorite films). In gala tradition, the songstress concluding her act with “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.”

Dinner followed, served in the Central Courtyard of the California historic landmark. The crowd enjoyed cuisine provided by the Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano with wine pairings by Rancho Capistrano Winey and Miura Vineyard & Clos Pissarra.

James Irvine Swinden, Mission Preservation Foundation board member and Vicky Carabini, at 2021 Romance of the Mission gala.
(Lisa Renee Photography)

Major support for this affair came from Kerry and Gavin Herbert of Rogers Gardens and Idit and Moti Ferder of Lugano Diamonds, Newport Beach. Also lauded for generosity was Margaux Pierog Kugelman. Clergy in attendance included Bishop Kevin Vann, Msgr. Stephen Doktorczyk and Vicar General Reverend Michael McKiernan, pastor and rector at Mission Basilica.

Serving People In Need has announced the appointment of Stephanie Smolkin as the new executive director of the 30-year strong nonprofit finding its mission in placing unhoused families with children in permanent housing in Orange County.

Smolkin joined SPIN in 2011 as controller and grant administrator and over 10 years has managed SPIN’s financial business with emphasis on securing a foundation of financial strength permitting funding of SPIN’s programs.

Stephanie Smolkin, new executive director of Serving People In Need (SPIN).
(Ann Chatillon)

Earlier this month SPIN held its virtual fundraiser for 2021 billed as “Harvesting Hope.” Significant support came from sponsors including Peggy and Frank Listi, Julie and Ricky Parker, Sheila Sale, Jill and Curtis Scheetz and Kim and Dick Crawford.

Also front and center donating to SPIN were the Frome Family Foundation, Virginia Schloemer Foundation, the Tom and Mayumi Foundation, and Golden State Foods, among many others. More than $260,000 was raised from the online event.

On Dec. 1, SPIN will host a holiday appreciation dinner and jazz concert produced by Kim Frazier and SPIN super-advocate Mary Lou Shattuck. Donors supporting the virtual fundraiser will be invited to the party at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, Corona del Mar for cocktails, dinner, and dancing provided by the sought after Ron Kobayashi ensemble.

To learn more about SPIN visit

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