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Money, Eyebrows Raised at Lestonnac Clinic Benefit

June 02, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Money wasn't all that was raised at a benefit for the Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange. So were a few eyebrows.

The money--about $22,000--was the most ever from a single benefit for the clinic, which provides free medical and dental care to those who cannot afford treatment.

"That's a quarter of our annual operating budget," said an elated Jerry Derloshon, chairman of the clinic's development committee. More than $5,000 of the total came from a silent auction preceding the fourth annual dinner at the Anaheim Hilton & Towers on May 26.

The eyebrows went up as performer Julie Wilson sang some lyrics that many considered inappropriate, especially because clinic founder Sister Marie Therese, a member of the Sisters of the Company of Mary, was in the audience.

Thursday's $125-per-person event was billed as "Orange County Entertains You," but the evening's entertainment came from the Big Apple, not the Big Orange. Wilson, a highly acclaimed cabaret singer, flew in from New York for the occasion at the request of her friends Bob Wian--founder of Bob's Big Boy--and his wife, June.

Some guests were shocked when Wilson, performing her "Stephen Sondheim Songbook" show, launched into a number called "I Never Do Anything Twice," which makes reference to, among other things, a sadomasochistic affair and a woman who dresses up in a nun's habit and "lies together" with an abbot.

At the head table, Sister Marie Therese showed no outward reaction to the song. Applause from the more than 275 guests was polite but subdued.

Several departing guests, however, said they found the song, as well as another with questionable language, highly inappropriate.

"I think what we had was a New York show for an Orange County audience," said Derloshon, who agreed that Wilson's choice of songs made some guests uncomfortable.

Wilson may not have been familiar with the cause she was helping or the woman behind it, but her audience was. Nearly everyone in the room, it seemed, had been enlisted to help in some way.

"When sister calls, you drop everything," Derloshon said.

"She doesn't ever think she's going to fail or that people will ever say no," said Patrick Waugh, a member of the clinic's board of directors. "She does have a way of dragging people into things."

Lestonnac serves more than 2,500 patients a year. Fifty doctors and 35 nurses volunteer their services. "Without our facility, I don't know where these people would get help," said clinic supporter Stan Pawlowski, who recently helped Lestonnac close escrow on a building of its own, across the street from its rented quarters on Chapman Avenue.

Fund-raising for the approximately $675,000 necessary to pay off the loan on the building is being handled separately.

Sister Marie Therese said she started the clinic in 1979 because "I'd seen so much suffering among the poor. Poor women were having their babies in garages because they couldn't afford to go to a doctor."

But medical care isn't the only benefit patients receive at the clinic, according to Pawlowski. "You see them in the waiting room, downhearted, scared, not knowing what's going to happen to them," he said. "And then when they come out, they're relieved and at peace, because someone took such a personal interest in them."

"We try to raise the dignity of the people," Sister Marie Therese said, "to let them know somebody loves them; somebody cares."

Orange Mayor Jess Perez said the city has tried to help the clinic with money from revenue sharing and other federal programs, but now those funds have been cut and the clinic has become more dependent on private donations.

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