The Crowd: Cuban-themed gala nets $1.1M for cancer

It was arguably the most personal charitable event on the Orange Coast so far this season.

The Diamond and Pearl Ball benefiting the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation was an evening of heartfelt anecdotes of survival infused with life-affirming endorsements of faith and humanity. Person after person, video after video, in intimate detail, told the incredible struggles of people from all walks of life fighting the insidious disease. By the end of the Saturday night gala held at the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation raised a remarkable $1.1 million.

For those unfamiliar with the goals of Beckstrand, it has an important and unusual focus. It is not about raising money to fund cancer research, rather it is about raising money to support people who can not afford the basic necessities of life when diagnosed with cancer. Think about it.

If you were given the news that you were facing a battle with cancer, would you still be able to work full-time? Would you be able to pay your mortgage or rent? Would you be able to provide for your family? Would your savings go far enough to pay your medical bills not covered by insurance and cover the cost of living during treatment?

For most Americans the answer to all of these questions is no. That is where Beckstrand steps in, creating a personal one-on-one relationship with people dealing with cancer, helping them to survive the extremely challenging financial burden the disease places on individuals from every corner of society, except perhaps the extremely wealthy.

And this is why the 2010 annual Beckstrand gala was such a personal event. Stories of survival came from every corner of the ballroom at the Balboa Bay Club, with special note of the heartfelt words coming from honored guest of the night Rich Saul, National Football League Hall of Famer.

Saul, attending the gala with his wife, Eileen, is a cancer survivor, who shared with the audience his personal struggle about a time that derailed his life and the lives of his wife and children. Saul was among the fortunate ones, able to survive the financial turmoil. With the medical care Saul received from Dr. Neil Barth at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, as well as other medical professionals involved in his care, he was able to beat cancer and put his life back together.

In contrast to the seriousness of the cause, the gala itself was over-the-top glamorous. Organizers created the party around the theme "An Evening In Havana," and they pulled out all the stops. Floor-to-ceiling canvas backdrops of Cuban streets lined the perimeter walls of the Bay Club ballroom. A two-story stage was erected in the center of the room with hundreds of light bulbs lining its railings and steps to the dance floor, where a troupe of young women in sequin clad bikinis, high heels and pink-feathered headdresses recreated the atmosphere of a Cuban nightclub chorus back in the high-living days before Castro ruled the island nation. The crowd dined on a gourmet, four-course dinner that began with a crab roulade and featured an entrée of a tender filet served with handmade ravioli.

Presenting sponsors of the evening were the ultra-generous Eden and George O'Connell with additional significant support coming from Jan and Mike Salta, Dave and Holly Wilson, Keith and Mara Murray, William and Elisabetta Graff, Mark and Inga Bedar, Mike and Debbi Bolen, Blaine and Renetta Caya, James Magmi, A.J. and Joni D'Amato, Kenny Johnson, Jeff and Holly Miller, and Paul and Michelle Janavs. Also front and center for the gala was celebrity Beckstrand spokeswoman Eva La Rue, one of the co-stars of the television show "CSI-Miami."

Gala chairwoman Caya, working with Beckstrand Executive Director Lil Spitzer, created a spectacular evening using the Havana nightclub theme. Adjacent to the ballroom there was a cigar lounge and a casino after-party that kept the crowd entertained late into the night.

Committee members deserving credit included Ariela Shani and Michaele Hall, both from Neiman Marcus; fashion designer Oday Shakar; jeweler Stuart Winston, representing Lugano Diamonds, generous donors of an 11 carat brilliant cut cognac diamond bracelet set in 18 carat black gold.

Also working for the cause were Mary Jo Housman, Michele Mullen, Sharon Chan and Lorie Clark, to name only a few. Spotted in the crowd were Diana and Brian Murphy, Alison and Kimo McCormick, Carrie and Dave Williams, Kerry and Peter Hernandez, Pam Pickens with Peter Grace, Jane Buchan and her husband, Jim Driscoll, and Steve and Diana Pearson.

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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