SAN DIEGO — Elizabeth Austin-Eckert was to have been the first of 15 honorees down the ramp at the 26th annual Women of Dedication presentation of notable volunteers--given by the Salvation Army's Door of Hope Auxiliary--but, because the Vista 4-H Club guide-dog trainer chose to be escorted by one of her German shepherd pups rather than her husband, as is the orthodox procedure, the powers that be moved her to the other end of the alphabet.
Thus, Austin-Eckert and her pooch brought up the rear at the Tuesday event at the San Diego Marriott, but not without elan. An insider who witnessed the dress rehearsal said of the dog, "He was better behaved than some of the ladies."
The rule that children and animals always swipe the spotlight was applied in Eckert's case as well as to the Salvation Army's youthful Joyful Sounds choral group (but not to the day as a whole, which definitely belonged to the 15 honorees). The young singers--ages 7 to 13--were to have performed after the presentation, but instead were brought out immediately after the lunch of mushroom soup en croute and orange-glazed chicken. Helping the kids steal their portion of the show was their medley of patriotic songs, offered as a salute to the heady events of the day.
Another invasion of the day's traditional tone of genteel politesse was made by Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, a costumed character drafted by KPBS-TV to make a special presentation to 1991 Women of Dedication honoree and Public Broadcasting Service supporter Darlene Shiley. The tall, furry, gravel-voiced critter waltzed up to Shiley's center-stage table carrying a pizza-size chocolate chip cookie, etched with a star of frosting that surrounded the motto "You Are Our Special Star." This particular type of cookie-- though usually in a more manageably sized version--is apparently a Shiley favorite.
The purchase of a table by KPBS was a typical gesture repeated by many of the county's cultural and charitable organizations; according to Bridget Cantu of the Old Globe Theatre, the table manned by executive producer Craig Noel and other Globe representatives honored no fewer than six of the 15 Women of Dedication, all of who have performed significant volunteer services for the theater. Recognition of volunteer service is indeed the entire point of the luncheon, and in the 26 years it has been held, more than 300 women, many still active in volunteer work, have been inducted into the group.
Many of these were among the 700 who came to watch peers and pals promenade down the runway while San Diego Union columnist Burl Stiff read a brief resume of each honoree's accomplishments. The group of women and the list of organizations they have served spanned the county.
Mary-Lynn Deddeh, wife of state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Bonita), chaired the luncheon and praised the honorees in terms familiar to those who have attended the event in the past.
"These 15 women have given generously of their time and talent for the betterment of our community," she said. "It's gratifying to see so many here to honor these fine women, as well as the worldwide efforts of the Salvation Army."
The Salvation Army was represented by its new San Diego County coordinators, Capt. Donald C. Bell and his wife, Debora. Donald Bell offered the invocation, and, in addition to an expression of gratitude for "a world at peace," he said: "These 15 women represent service. They represent dedication and commitment."
The event proceeded without much of the glamour and glitz that customarily accompanies large luncheon benefits, but it did support its theme of "Faces of the Future, Light Up a Life" with such elements as the silvery masks that dressed up the simple, spring bouquet centerpieces, and the miniature flashlights handed out. The hotel did its bit to further this theme by shaping its currently inescapable dessert of molded chocolate stuffed with macadamia mousse in the form of twin baby shoes, one light and one dark. This clever conceit was named "Stepping Into the Future," and was a sweet lead-in to the performance by the Joyful Voices kids.
The list of organizations served by the 1991 Women of Dedication is a fairly exhaustive survey of the county's major institutions, as well as many smaller and primarily neighborhood-oriented groups. Besides Austin-Eckert and Shiley, the honorees stepping down the runway were Barbara Hunsaker, Barbara Iredale, Ann Halpenny Kantor, Dorothy Leonard, Elizabeth March, Rita Neeper, Joyce S. Oliver, Catherine Algernon Phillips, Ann Pund, Mary B. Sandermann, Carol Stark, Pat Tapp and Carol Stead Tuggey.
The committee included co-chair Roberta Johnson, Andie Bowers, Myra Canner, Eva Crawford, Lois Dechant, Lynn Schenk, Lorraine Whittington, Peggy Elliott, Mary Fadem, Dixie Unruh, Betty Tharp, Grace Surber, Rose Ellen Leavenworth, Betty McElfresh, Margherita Hunt Mazur, Ralphine Greaves, Chris Fontana and Pat Keating.