CENTER VIPS: Larry and Dee Higby, Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom and Terry Dwyer unveil a special exhibit of Segerstrom Center for the Arts history in the Jewel Court at South Coast Plaza. (Daily Pilot / October 14, 2011)

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts launched its 25th-anniversary season in grand style. The Founders Plus, an organization comprised of citizens who were the early visionaries involved in the creation of the center, came together for a silver anniversary dinner in the Samueli Theater.

It was a gathering of longtime friendships, as some 120 members of Founders Plus and their dinner guests reminisced on the early days when the Segerstrom Center — formerly known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center — was nothing else but agricultural land.

The evening marked the inauguration of the Founders Plus Legacy Endowment Program, which, along with other significant Founders Plus financial support, enables the center to provide programs for schoolchildren in the community and tickets to many performances throughout the year. It's an effort for O.C. citizens who might not be able to attend otherwise.

The Founders Plus evening was hosted by Shari Esayian, president of the group, who joined the Silver Celebration gala chair Ruth Ding in welcoming many of the most significant philanthropic partners who have been mainstays of the center's growth.

Very special guests of the evening included the distinguished Elaine Redfield, a past president of the center's Board of Trustees. She originally worked with Henry Segerstrom to secure the land from the Segerstrom family for the eventual creation of the project.

Honored at the 25th anniversary dinner were Benton and Wanlyn Bejach, presented with the annual Founders Plus Maxine Gibson Award for their longtime service to arts-related community based organizations in Orange County. In particular, the Bejachs have directed their attention to the center's "Summer at the Center" education program for at-risk youth.

VIPs in the crowd included center President Terry Dwyer, Jan Landstrom, Judy Morr, Gini and Bob Robins, Nora and Jim Johnson, Barbara and Robert Kleist, Kathy and Emory Frink, Bill Gillespie, and Barbara and Keith Johannes.

The crowd was served a trendy dinner of braised longbone short ribs in sauce Merlot and then was treated to a marvelous performance, which began with the impressive young pianist Umi Garrett followed by vocalists Heather Calvete and Tyler Thompson accompanied by Daniel Faltus.

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Two additional events connected to the center's 25th anniversary unfolded this month. The Sound of Music Chapter of the Guilds of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts presented "The First Notable Kitchen Tour and Showcase."

The event began at the Crystal Cove Canyon Club, Newport Coast, and was followed by a tour of five incredible kitchens in Newport Coast and Shady Canyon residences.

In each home, a celebrity chef created a signature dish for the attentive crowd on tour. The major undertaking was chaired by Patty Lance working with Sound of Music Guild co-chairs Danni Good and Diane Monroe.

Jewel Court at South Coast Plaza was the setting for the recent unveiling of an exhibit devoted to the evolution of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The art exhibit, which consists of 18 panels, is a showcase of historic images that tell the story of the performing arts in Orange County. The exhibition is on display for public enjoyment through Sunday.

Local celebs attended a reception last week for the launching of the presentation, which included champagne toasts and the modeling of Cartier jewelry, a major sponsor of the upcoming 2011 Candlelight Concert.

Caroline Jones, representing Cartier, has been a significant supporter and advocate of the arts in Orange County and a major financial donor over the years. Cartier is the lead sponsor for the upcoming Candlelight Concert, which will star Broadway's Tony and Emmy Award-winning performer Kristin Chenoweth, the incredible Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Community activist Dee Higby will chair Candlelight Concert this year and work closely with co-chairs Betty Huang and Elizabeth Segerstrom, three of the most elegant and talented hostesses on the Orange Coast.

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.