"A room full of friends" is how G. T. (Buck) Smith, president of Chapman College, described the scene in a banquet room Thursday night at the Irvine Marriott.
The room was full all right--nearly 600 guests, paying $250, $500 or $1,000 each, attended the gala dinner to honor Buck and Joni Smith's "Decade of Distinction" at Chapman's helm. And friendly? One needed only to see the guests' smiling, upturned faces when Buck or Joni--who spent the dinner hour on separate tours of the room--stopped at a table for brief greetings.
Hugs. Handshakes. An anecdote. Laughter. Whispered praises as the president or his wife stepped away.
Taking a seat on a couch outside the dining room ("I'll just rest my feet for 2 minutes"), Joni Smith admitted she preferred honoring others to being honored, "But this is festive, isn't it?"
The "First Lady," as she was called by Chapman board chairman George Argyros, wore a festive white silk gown trimmed with beaded lace. "My mother used to wear a dress like this when she went to her Eastern Star meetings (in New York)," she said. "I've wanted one like it since I was 5.
"Anyway," she added, "Buck likes me in white."
Pausing between tables, the president beamed as he talked about "college on a human scale" and the "family atmosphere" on campus.
"We all know one another on a first-name basis," he said with pride.
Still, after 10 years at Chapman--a tenure during which the college's net worth has grown from $7 million to more than $52 million--is he thinking of moving on?
"To think of going to any other institution," he said, "would be like contemplating divorce from someone you deeply love."
After dinner, guests watched a multi-projector slide show tribute to the Smiths, then turned their attention to a sea of electric blue gowns and crisp tuxedos banked in one corner of the room--the 58-member Chapman College Concert Choir.
Led by William Hall, professor of music and conductor of the Orange County Master Chorale, the choir performed selections from "The King and I," "Carousel," "Paint Your Wagon" and "Man of La Mancha."
Argyros and his wife, Judie, presented the Smiths with an oil portrait, then Doy B. Henley, chairman of the development committee, announced that Chapman's psychology building will be renovated this summer and renamed Smith Hall--the result of donations by several individuals, including a major donation from trustee Robert Pralle and a grant from the L.A.-based Fletcher Jones Foundation.
Net proceeds from the evening, an estimated $250,000, will go into a Chapman general fund.
Ten miles away and two nights later, another college got to the business of awards and honors.
Cypress College held its 13th annual "Americana Awards" dinner Saturday at the Disneyland Hotel--a fete that drew 747 guests at $100 each and netted more than $90,000.
Louise Pomeroy, founder and president of Abigail Abbott Personnel Cos. in Tustin, was named "Americana Woman of the Year," while seven others, each representing a community served by the college, were named "Citizens of the Year."
During a cocktail hour party in the Pavilion lounge, near the Grand Ballroom where the dinner was held, Pomeroy described how she found out she would be honored for her involvement with many charitable, professional and political organizations in the county.
"It was September," said the statuesque Pomeroy, who wore a corsage of roses on her left shoulder. "(Event chairman) Don (Karcher) called my assistant, Allayne Yackey, and asked me to go to lunch with him and Stan Pawlowski. That's like going to lunch with Mr. Orange County and Mr. Orange County, right?
"When Allayne told me, I asked her to call back and find out what this was all about, but of course Don wouldn't tell her. So we go to lunch and the two of them are sitting there like the cat that ate the canary! We're talking about this and that, and the whole time I'm thinking, what the heck is this about?
"Then Don told me, and my only thought was, I hope my mother can see me now."
Pomeroy tipped her head back slightly and smiled. Her mother is dead, she said, "But I think she knows."
Others honored for their service to the community were Robert Kuznik of Anaheim, Benjamin Sportsman of Buena Park, Richard Anderson of Cypress, Jan Dunn of Garden Grove, Dan Collins of La Palma, Johanna Zinter of Los Alamitos and Robert Pralle of Stanton.
Proceeds will be used to "make the lives (of the disabled) on campus a little easier," said Ron Dominguez, president of the Cypress College Foundation. According to John Wagner, executive director of the foundation, about 400 of the 13,500 students enrolled at Cypress are physically or mentally disabled.
Although disabled students make up 3% of the enrollment, less than 1% of the budget goes for disabled programs, Wagner said.
"Sacramento hasn't necessarily been as kind to programs which are not part of the primary concern of a college campus," such as programs for the disabled, he said.
Wagner said proceeds will be used before the school year ends June 30 to buy specially adapted computers and to hire tutors, note-takers and interpreters to assist the disabled.