His sonorous voice preceding him, Robert Goulet strode into the spotlight at the Irvine Hilton on Saturday night singing "The Impossible Dream"--a fitting anthem for the third annual Orange Blossom Ball hosted by the Orangewood Children's Foundation.
"I think God is looking down on you tonight and smiling," the dashing Goulet told a buffed and bejeweled audience of 620 that included singer Donny Osmond; California Angels' Doug DeCinces, Kirk McCaskill and Don Sutton, and a passel of politicos.
Divine benevolence or not, the evening marked a dream fulfilled for Orangewood and its supporters.
Seven years ago, the foundation began raising funds to build a new facility for the Orangewood Children's Home (formerly the Albert Sitton Home)--the county-operated emergency shelter for abused, neglected and abandoned children.
Under the auspices of Kathryn Thompson, foundation board member and development chairman, the project was launched with a $1-million donation from William Lyon, board chairman .
On Saturday, shortly before Goulet's resounding entrance, Thompson presented four of Orangewood's creditors (representing Union, Tokai, Security Pacific and First Interstate banks) with a check for $30,000--the final payment on the 170-bed facility in the City of Orange, completed in 1985. That done, she delighted the crowd by touching a match to the mortgage and depositing the flaming debris in a silver soup tureen.
"When I see all this," said William G. Steiner, the foundation's executive director, "I realize a lot of people in Orange County really care about these kids." Steiner said he would "breathe a little easier" knowing the debt was paid off.
"But that's just the beginning of the story in terms of meeting the broader needs of abused and neglected children," Steiner said, citing child abuse prevention programs, recruitment of foster parents, administration of a children's trust fund and public policy advocacy as responsibilities and goals for the foundation in coming years.
Tickets for the $200-per-person black-tie affair were sold out even before a general mailing of invitations. Board member Judie Argyros, resplendent in a beaded red chiffon by Bob Mackie, said, "We got such a tremendous response--we could have had 800 (guests) tonight!" Argyros co-chaired the event with her developer husband, George, owner of the Seattle Mariners, and Elizabeth and Tom Tierney. Proceeds from the evening exceeded $105,000.
The foundation members' love for children was reflected in the decor, which featured life-size stuffed clowns, wooden horses and old-fashioned popcorn wagons. Paper circus tents colored and inscribed by Orangewood children decorated the tables. "Orangewood helps keep things in balance," wrote Seth, 7. "No 'Lion' about it, we love Orangewood," wrote Chris, 6.
Foundation staffer Diana Lindersmith said she chose the circus motif and primary colors "so we could remind ourselves that kids are the reason we're here. Last year (the decorations were) very lavish and sophisticated. This year, I said, 'Bring in the clowns!' "
Orangewood supporter DeCinces said he felt "lucky to be in a business that kids look up to. If you help the youth of society, you're helping the future."
Pitcher Sutton, who was DeCinces' guest, added, "I can rationalize pain for adults, but I have real trouble understanding how adults can cause children pain. That makes no sense. It doesn't compute."
Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) called the foundation, which raised more than $6 million of the shelter's $7.5-million cost through private donations, "a model for other programs throughout California and the country."
"Government does not have the resources to take care of everything," Badham said. "When local population gets the bulk of funds together for a project like this and says to government, 'Here, we'll share this with you,' that demonstrates the determination of the people."
After a cocktail reception and dinner of beef filet with Boursin cheese and spinach, Goulet delivered an hour of sentimental favorites, including songs from "Camelot" and an updated version of "Let's Fall in Love." (Sample lyric: "Tammy Faye Bakker said to her Maker, 'My husband never left my side.' ")
After schmoozing around the ballroom, wireless microphone in hand, Goulet stepped back on stage, and joked, "I would have been nervous about my high notes if I'd known Donny Osmond was in the audience."
The only low notes of the evening were musical--and the erstwhile Sir Lancelot sang them in grand style.
Also attending the benefit were foundation board members Carol Campbell, Leo Cook, Christy D'Ambrosio, Gary Hunt, Robert Ihrke, James McNamara, Nancy Weiss, Robert Morgan, Dale Paisley, Tom Powell, Tom Santley, Larry Seigel and Richard Williams.
Representing the governmental sector were Orange County Supervisors Thomas F. Riley, Roger R. Stanton, Don R. Roth and Gaddi H. Vasquez; state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach); Santa Ana Councilman Wilson B. Hart and Orange Councilwoman Joanne Coontz.