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The Jewel Ball Provides Sparkling Event for 900

August 10, 1987|David Nelson

LA JOLLA — Saturday, Las Patronas put de lime in de coconut, shook it all around and poured out "Calypso," the 41st annual Jewel Ball.

In other words, this group of 50 hard-working women did do that voodoo that they do so well by staging what surely ranks as one of the liveliest Jewel Balls on record, a Caribbean-themed frolic given at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club that had most of its 900 guests wishing they were limber enough to attempt the limbo.

Based loosely on Jamaican and other island themes, this 151-proof party maintained its envied national status as one of the country's top 10 annual fund-raisers by earning more than $350,000 for five major and 50 lesser beneficiaries, all of them in San Diego County.

Among top beneficiaries were the Logan Heights Family Health Center, the San Diego Museum of Art, Scripps Memorial Hospital-Encinitas and the Aquarium-Museum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Fund-raising is the serious side of the Jewel Ball (Las Patronas, devoted to philanthropy, is not associated with any single beneficiary, but makes up a list each year based on thoroughly researched fund requests from assorted charities and cultural institutions), but fun is the engine that propels this extraordinarily successful event. There was a certain giddiness to this year's ball, inspired by the Calypso theme and by the Carnival interpretation given it.

There were the hair styles, for example, so wild that one committee member was prompted to call Calypso "the hair ball." The leading exemplar of la coiffure de l'extreme unquestionably was ball co-chairman Barbara ZoBell, who described her cockscomb-like mane of hair loops supported by arched, golden pipe cleaners as her "rooster look." One of the other impressed guests called it a "Cubist bird of paradise."

Another in the hair game was Judi Strada, whose tresses were interwoven with fake orange locks and ribbons snatched from the ballroom tables. All in all, these women helped set the tone for what may go down as one of the more fabled romps in La Jolla high society history. (National Geographic, researching a story on San Diego, had a team on hand to record the event as an example of how the city likes to play.)

More Than Met Eye

But there was more to Calypso than met the eye--this party went down deep into the community fabric, since for the first time in the ball's 41 years, it was chaired by the daughter of a woman who is not only a former Jewel Ball chairman, but a founding member of the Las Patronas group. Carolyn Hooper attended her first Jewel Ball in 1958, the year that her mother, Midge Preston, took the party helm.

"I wanted Calypso to be like it was back then, a gathering of the people who run this town, and something truly elegant, like the balls in Newport, R.I.," said Hooper, who spent 12 months preparing for the gala's six hours. "Calypso is a celebration of life, like the Jewel Ball always has been. When I was 15, Louis Armstrong played, and I never had so much fun in my life. He led a samba line around the pool, and everybody joined in."

Hooper added that she never expected to chair her own ball; her first duty, back in 1958, was selling raffle tickets to society regulars in the dining room at La Jolla's long-gone but storied Del Charro Hotel. (Arthur Hooper said that his wife had so enjoyed her work that he expected her to miss the daily tasks of party planning.)

Midge Preston displayed a touch--or perhaps more--of motherly pride. Gesturing at the ballroom, she said: "This decor is divine. It's so gay, it just makes you feel happy." Other family members present were Ord Preston, Sarah and David Burton, and New York socialites Diana and Peter Gonzales.

Another Las Patronas founding member, Jo Bobbi MacConnell, said that the evening gave her feelings of deep nostalgia. "I remember when Carolyn ran around during planning meetings saying, 'Cookie, Mama!' Now she's all grown up and chairing her own spectacular ball."

Building a Ball

In the final analysis, what makes the ball unique is its site, the ordinarily prosaic tennis courts of the La Jolla club. Each year in January, the 50 Las Patronas members go to work at the group's own warehouse, where what might be described as a complete movie set is cut, painted and assembled. The result is an open-air ballroom that looks to have sprung up of its own accord. But it doesn't--these women have to master every sort of tool, including saber saws and other dangerous implements. As co-chairman D. Ann Fanestil said: "You work so long and hard on this party that it has to come together."

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