People who leave the party early sometimes miss the thrills. And there was no escaping the fact that the mentally handicapped youngsters who performed on stage late in the evening at the California Special Olympics gala last week at the Century Plaza stole the show.
It was their big debut--in sleek leotards. They had rehearsed each step, carefully, over and over. They were stars. They loved it. So did Al Jarreau, the jazz singer, who stole his own show earlier (as he had last summer at the Greek Theater) with his musicians and a glitzy light show produced by Joseph Di Sante and Fred Fichman of ABC Television.
When it was all over, Jarreau was on stage with the youngsters, including Special Olympian Daimon Thompson, who had sung the National Anthem in his own very special moving way. They were hugging and kissing, expressing the tenderness so important to the mentally handicapped.
Thus, the second annual "Spirit of Friendship Gala."
A Winning Situation
More than 800 attended the pre-Christmas affair. Chairman Stephen H. Ackerman predicted it would raise nearly $150,000 to aid the California Special Olympics program and its 30,000 participating athletes. It was a winning situation, though winning, as Rafer Johnson, 1960 Gold Medal winner in the decathlon and president of the CSO and head coach of the International Special Olympics, noted, takes on a different dimension with Special Olympians. Their motto is: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
When the mentally handicapped--some in wheelchairs and some blind--cross the finish line, they're all winners, as one observer commented. A gold medal can be awarded for throwing a ball 20 feet.
Early movers and shakers in the movement included the Kennedy family and Jan Sarnoff. Several years ago, Carl Karcher, chairman of the board and CEO of the Carl's Jr. restaurant chain, agreed to support the development and operation of Carl's Jr. Sports Camps, training camps for the athletes. For his dedication, Saturday evening he was awarded the Friendship Award, with his wife, Margaret ("my bride of 46 years"), and some of his nine daughters and three sons in the audience. Paul and Lois Mitchell (he's senior vice president of Carl Karcher Enterprises) also attended.
By contributing a certain amount for each sandwich sold during a summer weekend, and with efforts from the company's employees in about 410 Carl's in California and Arizona, his company has raised nearly $600,000 for the camps.
It was the sort of evening that drew special people and special friends.
The Charles Millers (she's on the board), the Fred Clareys, the Norton Browns were there. Mel and Nora Masuda, vowing to get involved, attended with Tony and Tina de Luca. Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, escorted by his assistant, Father Lawrence Estrada, attended and presented the invocation, earlier telling guests, "It's so nice to meet all you fine people." The Milton Shoong Foundation of San Francisco supported the cause with six tables.
James and Doreen McElvany, Richard and Donna Kagan, Terrence and Debbie Lanni were among the activist table hosts.
And prominent in the audience were the supporters of the new Circle of Friends, which Ackerman has launched. They include the Richard F. Mogans III and the Peter Eichlers. The Mogans hosted two tables of guests: Kathleen and Tom McCarthy, Martha and Glen Mitchel, Pauline and Ted Naftzger, Dodie and Bill Haight, Marilyn and Bill King, Elizabeth and Thad Up de Graff, and Joan Williams with Denny Boultinghouse and Leah Coulter with Burton Wright.
More supporters dining on filets and peppermint ice cream with candy cane decorations were Don and Linda Pennell, the Hank Elders, the Stephen Griffiths, the Ed Ellises, Kaye Champagne, Abe and Toni Lipsky, Fred Nigro (tickets), Ron and Tana Wagenbach, the William Zimmermans, the Nick Webers. All were mesmerized as Monty Hall so deftly played "Let's Make a Deal," scrambling through the audience, while guests guessed, got (prizes and cash) and giggled.
For Gary Collins and Mary Ann Mobley, the masters of ceremony, it was their 18th anniversary. "I'm wearing the same shoes I wore then," Collins joked, and "it isn't often that you have this many celebrate your anniversary."
In tribute to Karcher, the Groundlings performed "pie humor" with the comments, "We're dreaming of a fast-food Christmas. May all your Christmases be fast."
It wasn't exactly clear who had won the Princess Cruise in the silent auction headed by Jeanne Valvo. But Vernon Sewards, the security guard, and the waiters won the heart of the lady whose misplaced mink was finally caged.