SAN DIEGO — The St. Vincent de Paul Center's proto-typical "one-room schoolhouse" benefited from Saturday's "The Miracle on 15th Street," an elegant and amusing production staged before about 450 people in the Hotel Inter-Continental Grand Ballroom.
The gala's numerous diversions included a dramatic monologue performed by actress Mercedes McCambridge and a surprise (and, for that matter, quite unplanned) spoof that came to be called "the mystery of the missing musician." A cocktail reception, an elaborate dinner and hours of dancing to the Wayne Foster Orchestra took up the balance of the program.
The man of the hour, and in many ways the star of the show, was the St. Vincent de Paul Center's director, Father Joe Carroll, for whom the center's proposed schoolroom has become a pet project. At one point in the evening, he rose and told the crowd: "I love taking your money and going out and spending it. That is a lot of fun, and I hope you'll continue to keep me happy."
And he presumably was quite happy by the end of the evening, since the event raised about $125,000 for the schoolroom that will be installed in the new center at 15th Street and Imperial Avenue. Construction will start soon on the building, which is expected to be completed in 1987, and its schoolroom will serve the children of transient and homeless families living in the emergency residence. A similar school, staffed by teachers supplied by the San Diego Unified School District, has been in operation since 1983 in the temporary quarters leased by the St. Vincent de Paul Center in downtown's Travolator motel.
One of the current school's staffers, teacher Jeannette Tarpley, attended the party and said that she can't wait to move into the new location. For one thing, she will be working in an environment that will be partly her own handiwork; Carroll invited her to assist the architect in designing the room.
"After 38 years of teaching, this is the first time I've ever been asked to help plan a schoolroom, and it's going to be a fine one," Tarpley said. She added that the hardest part of her job is that the children can stay with her for no more than two weeks and she never knows where they go after leaving her. "But we see definite steps of growth while they're with us," she said.
The guest list included much of the county's Roman Catholic Establishment, including Bishop Leo T. Maher, but extended to encompass an ecumenical crowd. Maureen Balsam and Joanne Warren served as the event's chairman and co-chairman, and among chief sponsors (listed in the program as "PTA Membership" and "Teacher's Pets") were Jan and Mike Madigan, Richel and Tawfiq Khoury, RoseLee and Harold Kvass, Virginia and Jack Monday, Tommi and Bob Adelizzi, Eileen Zirpolo, Kathy and George Pardee, Betsy and Doug Manchester, and Diana and Eric Sievers.
Sievers, a San Diego Chargers tight end, sponsors a St. Vincent de Paul benefit program each season called "Sievers' Receivers" in which he and others contribute a certain sum for every pass he catches. The Chargers also were represented by tackle Drew Gissinger, who attended with his wife, Gloria.
Master of ceremonies Bob Arnhym had no cause to suspect, when he launched the formal portion of the program, that events would go somewhat differently from what had been planned. "It was God's way of teaching me fund raising to introduce me to Father Joe," he said as he opened his address. The remark earned him the laughter he may have expected, but he earned even more when, after giving a lengthy, grand and glorious introduction to concert pianist Roger Torrison, the musician failed to appear. This momentarily left Arnhym dangling like a misplaced participle, but he quickly delved into his substantial repertoire of jokes and thus saved the situation.
McCambridge rushed to his aid when it became evident that Torrison (it later was revealed that he had been taken ill quite suddenly) would not be appearing. After turning to a tablemate and exclaiming, "I can't stand it when the show stops going--the show must go on," the actress swept up to the stage and offered a moving, curiously melodious monologue that combined memories of her own childhood with recitations from Shakespeare ("The quality of mercy is not strained" speech from "The Merchant of Venice") and Joyce Kilmer.
McCambridge said she became interested in the St. Vincent de Paul Center after watching a television public service announcement. She decided to visit the schoolroom, where she met Carroll, who invited her to participate in Saturday's gala. She resides in San Diego from time to time.