The Crowd: Notables pay tribute to Segerstroms

The story made front-page news in The Pilot last week. Other media outlets also picked it up. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary for The Orange County Performing Arts Center its board voted to rename the facility The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The honor pays homage to Orange County's pioneering Segerstrom family. Through five generations and a century of being connected to this community, the Segerstroms have led the growth of both business and culture, along with others, creating what is today one of America's most admired and in fact envied regions.

One man in particular has represented a vision of the highest American standards on behalf of his family's legacy. He is Henry T. Segerstrom, 87, managing partner of the family business that includes South Coast Plaza as well as major real estate holdings and interests in a multitude of endeavors. Over the past three decades, the Segerstrom family has donated in excess of $80 million in cash donations toward the creation of the arts center in Costa Mesa. That amount includes in excess of $60 million donated in cash by Henry Segerstrom himself. In addition, the 14 acres donated by the Segerstrom family upon which the center is built today is valued in the $70 million range.

On Jan. 12, an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in Costa Mesa, a most extraordinary event unfolded on the center's campus. The event recognized the vision and the accomplishment of one man and, not to be diminished, other uber generous and equally dedicated and empowered members of the Segerstrom family. Most notable among them is Sandra Segerstrom Daniels, daughter of the late Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom, and one of the torch bearers of the family generation prepared to carry on the legacy into this new century.

The purpose of this column is not simply to praise multi-millionaires who are able to donate large sums of their fortunes for community centers that will bear their name. Rather, this column is meant to go beyond the media coverage announcing the name change to illustrate the vital significance of enlightened leadership in society. How rare it has become in America, and the world, that people stand for the most noble of pursuits, embracing the arts as a life-changing force in humanity providing not just entertainment, but in fact hope and promise, wisdom, beauty, and transformation for countless thousands — make that millions of people — sitting in those seats over the past 25 years, and hopefully for the next century and beyond.

That is what I felt sitting in a white folding chair somewhere towards the rear of an impromptu crowd of nearly 2,000 people, who showed up at 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of Jan. 12 to witness a once in a lifetime tribute. There were friends, associates, celebrities, and extended Segerstrom family members. Mostly, there were Orange County citizens with no personal connection to the family. They had come to be a part of local history. Sitting there, shoulder to shoulder, not a vacant seat available, the energy, the passion was contagious. The crowd jumped to their feet, offering a rousing standing ovation following what was a most special afternoon. It included participation from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Center Chairman Tom McKiernan, Center President Terry Dwyer, a personal address from Sandra Daniels followed by dignified remarks from Henry T. Segerstrom, ending in a magnificent fireworks display above and all around the campus.

Working with talented center staff, Elizabeth Segerstrom, wife of Henry Segerstrom, produced a program that featured a spellbinding performance featuring reknown trumpet artist Chris Botti joined by violinist Caroline Campell and jazz singer Lisa Fischer. The large audience was silenced by the enormous and unique combination of talent they were witnessing.

As night fell over Costa Mesa and the smoke from the fireworks drifted with the easy evening breeze, Terry Dwyer announced that, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary and the center's rededication as The Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 10,000 tickets to events all through the year would be priced at just $10, enabling "access for all" for every performance on the calendar.

Toasting flutes filled with Cartier Champagne, the crowd shared the historic moment in the cultural evolution of Costa Mesa knowing full well that they were part of a unique gathering representing a lifetime of effort and challenge.

In a fitting launch of the season, on Thursday night stars of The Bolshoi Ballet, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, will perform in the premier ballet presentation of "Reflections", a highly anticipated dance event that will debut in Costa Mesa prior to making its curtain call in Moscow.

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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