The Crowd: Spirited support for Chapman University

It is the holiday luncheon of the season in Newport. Christmas at The Ritz, a tradition for the past 24 years, unfolded last Saturday, bringing together an overflow crowd of super-spirited folks thrilled to celebrate the season and support Chapman University. Santa was on hand to greet the crush, and he was even intimidated by the good cheer. Santa whispered to me, "I've never seen so many good looking ladies in one place." Mrs. Claus gave him a little push, and Santa bellowed, "Ho-Ho-Ho." Of course, he was correct, as usual. The women attending Christmas at The Ritz are indeed stunning from head to toe.

The lead "stunner" on duty was Donna Bianchi, chairwoman of the massive event. Bianchi partnered with the ever-glamorous Adrienne Brennan, a Chapman alumna who last year pledged a $1 million donation to the university. Brennan serves as president of the Fashionable Women of Chapman, the organization behind the annual holiday event. Sporting a chic Christmas red suit, the raven-haired real estate pro shared a bit of personal info about her beau, R.J. Brandes, the South County tycoon.

"I had his 17-acre ranch in San Juan Capistrano listed for sale, that's how we met," Brennan said. "I didn't sell the farm, but I fell in love with its owner!"

The grand patrons of Christmas at The Ritz were major Chapman benefactors S. Paul Musco and his wife, Marybelle. The couple underwrote the luncheon with a $50,000 donation. In the middle of the affair, Milan and Milena Panic, sitting at the Musco table, matched the $50,000 donation to Chapman, raising the philanthropic total to an amazing $251,220. The most money raised previously by The Fashionables luncheon was $172,000 in 2007, just before the recession set in. Perhaps this is a good omen for a better year in 2011.

A traditional holiday luncheon was served by The Ritz staff led by Ray Jacobi on hand to greet many of his friends and regular customers. The overflow crowd included Rusty and Bill Hood, Nora and Jim Johnson, Charlene Prager, Sue and Dave Hook, Kathy and Noel Hamilton, Marion Pickens, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Bob Waltos, Drago Gligic and Zee Allred, Alison and Kimo McCormick, Barbara and Alex Bowie, Leslie and Dino Cancellieri, Mary Dell Barkouras, Margaret Richardson, Cerise and James Cassello, and the super-dedicated Fashionable leader, Donna Bunce, local society queen and major Chapman fundraiser.

Also supporting Chapman were: Sandra Brodie, Jan Salta, Kim Smith, Pat and Dick Allen, Debbie and Gary Douglas, Mary and Jack Norberg, Dave and Anne Rosenberg and the beautiful Tricia Berns. In addition to the phenomenal support of the Musco and Panic families, major funding also came from Sally Segerstrom and Dorothy and Don Kennedy, serving as honorary chairs. On hand for the celebration was the much-loved Chapman couple, college President Jim Doti, and his wife, Lynn.

As in years past, the highlight of the luncheon fundraiser is an amazing raffle that awards the most valuable gifts offered at a charity affair. With minimum values of at least $1,000, each of some 20 raffle drawings awards such prizes as shopping certificates at Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza, a fabulous wine weekend in Napa, merchandise from world-class designers and a grand prize Tahitian Pearl and diamond necklace courtesy of Lula Halfacre of Traditional Jewelers valued at more than $15,000.

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