The Crowd: Philanthropic event is front and center

They have made a positive impact on Orange County. Bette and Wylie Aitken were honored recently by Cal State Fullerton with the university's O.C. Titan Award presented at the "Front and Center" gala held at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

The major event filled the arena with supporters of CSF and the Aitkens coming together for a performance by Earth, Wind & Fire.

In addition to the concert by the Grammy winners and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, a black-tie dinner celebration for major donors unfolded with tickets going for $600 to more than $25,000. The purpose of the evening is to broaden the visibility of Cal State Fullerton in the Orange County community and to raise funds for both academic enrichment on campus and for much needed student scholarships.

A major contingent of Newport-Mesa supporters attended in honor of Bette and Wylie Aitken. Over the last decade the couple has emerged as significant philanthropic leaders.

Wylie Aitken serves as a trustee for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Chapman University. In addition, he is the board president for South Coast Repertory. Along with Bette, the pair has raised major funding for O.C. arts, education and scientific endeavors, as well as working tirelessly to chair major events rallying the community to action. Included in their passionate involvement are such causes as the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization, the Mission San Juan Capistrano preservation efforts and the foundation supporting Santa Ana College.

In her own right, Bette Aitken is a major force of good deeds and community giving. Among her charitable pursuits are the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Laura's House for women in crisis, where she was named "Women of the Year" in 2007, and many more.

In years past, "Front and Center" has honored such luminaries as Colin Powell, Walter Cronkite, Michael Eisner and entertainers including Bill Cosby, Natalie Cole, Whoopi Goldberg and Christopher Reeve.

What is especially fitting about the Aitken honor is that Wylie Aitken attended CSUF, majoring in history, and credits the college with giving him the foundation to attend law school. Both he and Bette have "given back" to the university on many levels over multiple decades, including assisting with the underwriting of "Front and Center" for some 13 seasons.

As the founding partner of the law firm Aitken, Aitken & Cohen, Wylie Aitken was one of the youngest presidents of the California State Trial Bar. He has been recognized as one of America's "Top 500 Lawyers" by Lawdragon magazine and the L.A. Daily Journal has named him among the "Top 100 Most Influential Lawyers in California." Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently nominated him to the California Arts Council.

Wylie and Bette, along with their three grown children, all attorneys with their firm, and 10 grandchildren, stand as O.C. role models of community activism and philanthropy. Among the O.C. dignitaries on hand to honor them were Paul Folino, S. Paul and Marybelle Musco, Pete and Neeland Agarwal, Suzanne Blender, Milton Gordon, television reporter Vicki Vargas, Michael Nason, master of ceremonies Jubilant Sykes, and Verne Wagner, chair of CSUF president's associate executive committee.

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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