For the past nine years, Mary Casper, Orange County director of Retinitis Pigmentosa International, has kept the organization's office fires burning in her Fullerton home.
On Friday night the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Princess Alicante Hotel in Garden Grove. Featured on the $100-per-plate agenda was a "roast" of Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda.
The benefit--the first large-scale event undertaken by the group--attracted nearly 200 guests and raised $10,000 to fight blindness.
Casper, a victim of retinitis pigmentosa for 14 years, welcomed and thanked guests for their support--especially for establishment of the organization's new Fullerton headquarters. "My family thanks you and my husband really thanks you," Casper said with a chuckle.
Giving the invocation was ex-Dodger and ex-Angel player John Werbas, now a minister to pro athletes in Southern California.
Co-chairmen of the event, Bernice Hird and Richard L. Hopping, president of the Southern California College of Optometry, were introduced before roast master Ed Arnold took over as emcee.
"It's a big mouthful" said Hopping, referring to retinitis pigmentosa. "And if it's too much to say, just call it RP."
He described the condition as a hereditary degenerative disease of the retina, commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. One of the earliest symptoms is night blindness, followed by a narrowing of side vision. The remaining sight becomes blurred, eventually leading to total blindness.
"One in 80 people carry the RP genes," Hopping said. "An estimated 400,000 children and young adults are afflicted, and it is estimated that 2,000 people in Orange County have RP "Funds from tonight will go towards research that will focus on gene localization."
After dinner, Arnold read congratulatory letters from President Reagan, California Gov. George Deukmejian and Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
Sister Jane Frances, the president of St. Jude Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Fullerton, spoke briefly. She thanked Lasorda for his appearance at the dinner, which was named in memory of Msgr. John Siebert, former pastor at Lasorda's church, St. Mary in Fullerton.
"Roasters," organized by Marion Burtz, included Dave Anderson, Jim Villers, Arthur (Red) Patterson, Joe Amalfitano, Carl Karcher, Doug Harvey, Jay Johnstone and Chris Huff.
Along with other jabs, Johnstone opened his attack on Lasorda with, "No man has done more for baseball than this man--not that it's any good. . . . "
Villers advised Lasorda that "life is uncertain. Eat dessert first."
Karcher of Carl's Jr.'s handed Lasorda a coupon for a free hamburger saying "in case you have another season like the last one."
Karcher concluded with, "I've had a wonderful evening, but this wasn't it."
Roaster Walter Prag, community relations director for Pioneer Bank in Fullerton, put a Mousketeer's cap on Lasorda's head and read him an "Ode to Lasorda," written by Alex Omalev. Lasorda seemed touched by the special tribute.
A member of the Dodgers organization for 37 years, Lasorda attended the event with his wife, Jo.
"I've had a wonderful time listening to these comedians," he told the group. "People in the insane asylum are saner than Johnstone."
Speaking of his team's poor performance this past season, Lasorda said there were a lot of injuries. "But we shall overcome. I know a lot of companies that have difficult times and they bounce back. So will we."
He added, "You are looking at the luckiest, happiest and most appreciative man in the world. Maybe some guy can tie me, but he can't beat me."
He closed his speech giving advice to parents.
"If you have any sons who have aspirations of being a professional baseball player, send him to the Dodgers. I don't want him to come to you later on in life, look at you with hate and regret and tell you that you denied him of joining the greatest organization in the world."