Column: The Crowd: Gentlemen’s Smoker raises funds for student scholarships

The 23rd annual Gentlemen’s Smoker celebrated another summer evening on the gold coast attracting more than 100 natty gents in blazers and Hawaiian shirts, raising $70,000 for the Balboa Bay Club’s Student Scholarship Fund benefiting college-bound youth from the Newport-Mesa school district.

Hosted by Balboa Bay Club manager Leticia Rice and Balboa Bay Resort GM Sam El-Rabaa, guests paid $250 and more per seat at the round tables fronting the bayfront as filet and lobster was served paired with exquisite wines by Trinitas Cellars under the supervision of executive chef Rachel Haggstrom. Music was provided by the Gary Gould Quartet.

Since its inception, the Smoker has been a success thanks to the emcee talent of John Wortmann, BBC Board of Governors chairman and Peter Buffa, former Mayor of Costa Mesa and financial wealth manager.

The duo creates a comedic routine, part roast and part toast, interspersed with managing to sell the assortment of auction items that bring in dollars for scholars.

This year, Wortmann and Buffa added the element of an “Ask,” reaching out to the donors in the crowd to step up and underwrite scholarships in full. Major donors included Tom Anderson and Carlos Cruz, both $10,000 donors. Additional sponsors of note were Mathias Weber, Sean Brown, Jon Newton and Manny Khoshbin.

The event originally was the brainchild of retired hotelier Henry Schielein, Honorary Goodwill Ambassador of the Smoker.

Schielein attended the evening joining a multitude of friends and community members. The Balboa Bay Club Smoker is considered one of the top two events of its kind in the country according to “Cigar Aficionado Magazine.” In the crowd were Tim Busch and son Garrett, Kory Kramer, Steve Arnold, Todd Pickup, Joe Moody, Lynn Caswell, Lincoln Salazar, Jerry Johnson, Chris Luis, Greg Wilkinson, Gordon Strange, Paul Daftarian, McLean Bergeron, and Tyke Camaras.

Also on hand to support the event was Nancy Jones, general manager of the Cubano Room, one of Newport’s premiere cigar destinations. Jones joined television producer “Hammer” from Lido Live TV donating a produced 30-second commercial as one of the live auction items.

Throughout the evening, an assortment of the world’s finest cigars were distributed and enjoyed by guests as the sunset faded into the ocean beyond.

With the fundraising totals for 2017, the Smoker has contributed a significant amount of the scholarship funding now exceeding $1.5 million granted to qualified graduating seniors from the Newport-Mesa High School district. Volunteers expect to raise upwards of $200,000 this year to fund the 2018 awards.

At the end of each school year, a panel of qualified judges interview scholarship candidates nominated by local high school counselors. Each candidate is judged on multiple levels of merit including academic achievement (GPA and test scores), athletic accomplishment, leadership, community participation, creative and artistic pursuit, speaking and writing ability, as well as financial need.

Scholarships are awarded in June, presented at a family dinner banquet hosted by the Pickup and Martin families, owners of Balboa Bay Resort and Balboa Bay Club.

Awards range from multiple $1,000 grants to $7,500 semifinalists to six $20,000 finalists. Students attend a wide variety of colleges and universities both in state and across the nation.

The BBC Scholarships are among the most generous offered in the Newport-Mesa community.

B.W. COOK is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.