The programming offered by PBS SoCaL is arguably the finest available on the airwaves. This in spite of the ever-present on-camera fundraising replacing the presence of commercial pitching. On a recent Saturday night in Costa Mesa, the cultural outreach and obligatory financial requirement came together, celebrating the seventh annual PBS SoCaL gala. Some 400 believers converged upon the OC Fair & Event Center hangar, raising more than $1 million for the PBS outlet. It was the most money raised to date at such an event.
Mel Rogers, PBS SoCaL president and chief executive, beamed with pride, thanking major donors for their significant support. Among the generous were $150,000 contributors John and Mary Tu, also providing their incomparable orchestra to entertain the crowd. Front and center were Newport's super-philanthropic S. Paul and Marybelle Musco, serving as honorary gala chairs and offering a $100,000 matching grant, which was matched in a matter of moments and exceeded by several hundred thousand dollars given the generosity of such patrons as gala chairs Jim and Kelly Mazzo, Jim and Sheila Peterson, Barbara and David Cline, Mary and Phil Lyons, Pamela Schmider, Bette and Wylie Aitken, Nadine and Robert Hall, and Carole Pickup, among many others.
The Mazzos, working with co-chairs Don Carnegie and Ardelle St. George, produced a lavish and upbeat evening honoring PBS. The hangar was decorated in high style that was both whimsical and elegant. Crystal chandeliers hung from the metal rafters, and designers draped scenic murals on the walls. Entering the event, guests passed through enormous white urns topped with giant red lampshades, sending a soft pink glow across the space. Tables alternated between round and rectangular set, with classic patterned gold-rimmed china and crystal stemware. Fragrant gardenias floated in clear glass bowls, interspersed with votive candles surrounding much larger clear glass globes sporting white orchids, roses, hydrangeas and pungent hyacinths. All of the patrons faced an enormous dance floor set-up in front of a raised stage that welcomed the massive performing orchestra of John Tu and friends.
The crowd cheered as PBS celeb Mark Walberg, host of "Antiques Roadshow," took the microphone. He charmed the audience with personal anecdotes, receiving a rousing ovation as he told the Costa Mesa crowd that his son had just days before graduated from one of the U.S. academies and was commissioned in the service of his nation. Joining Walberg at the podium were PBS SoCaL board of trustees president Jim McCluney, on-air personalities Elizabeth Espinosa and Rick Reiff and Rogers.
The best was yet to come. Director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles Robert Santelli took the stage and presented the work of the museum via video presentation as a lead-in to introducing the very special honored guest of the gala.
Music industry legend Peter Asher, a member of the 1960s "British Invasion" rock duo Peter and Gordon, enjoyed a standing ovation from the adoring assemblage of mostly people of the age able to well remember the hit songs "A World Without Love" and "Lady Godiva." Asher went on to become a music industry leader, producer, and career-maker as the first head of Apple Records. He was largely responsible for promoting the careers of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross and Neil Diamond, among others.
The recipient of three Grammy awards, Asher took the stage, decidedly more the grandfather in appearance than the 20-something kid with a mop-top Beatles-era haircut and horn-rimmed glasses that brought him worldwide fame. He joined his band of much younger rockers, all with hair, and delivered three songs. The voice was still there, clear as a bell, perfect pitch, hitting the high and low notes and taking the audience back 50 years in a matter of moments. Asher still had it going on, and he relished the moment just as the crowd took to its feet and filled the dance floor. It was prom night 1964 all over again.
In addition to Asher, PBS SoCaL honored the contributions of local citizens, including Lise Luttgens representing the Girl Scouts, Faye Washington from the YWCA, Jose Ramos working for and with our Vietnam veterans, Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Yao, and director of the National History Museum of Los Angeles County Jane Pisano. Special recognition was also bestowed upon "community champions" including Michael Mata, Barbara Carrasco and Harry Gamboa Jr., along with the Joyful Child Foundation and the Los Angeles Drama Club.
Passionate PBS donors, supporters, staff and volunteers spotted in the gala crowd included the talented PBS personality Maria Hall-Brown, Julie Ann Ulcickas, Jo Ellen Chatham, Bill Rogers, Peggy Goldwater Clay, Barbara Eidson, Bob Romney, Pep and Renee Valdes, Elizabeth and Tom Tierney, Aidan and Ann Raney, John and Anne Wortmann and Gregson Hall with Michelle Ultimo.
Bravo Jim and Kelly Mazzo and the entire team for raising the bar for PBS SoCaL. May the broadcast outlet long reign as a champion of culture, entertainment and education, serving the public with the highest of standards, elevating the quality of free television and making a real difference in the lives of citizens of all ages and backgrounds in the community.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.