For Jim Doti, recently installed president of Chapman University, the '50s theme for Saturday night's "American Celebration" benefit meant one thing:
"There's going to be ketchup on the table--and a big hunk of meat," Doti gleefully told a circle of guests. "There won't be chicken or fish."
Well, nobody said dietary habits haven't improved since the bobby socks era.
Just as Doti predicted, the approximately 850 formally attired guests at the Anaheim Marriott ate steak and fries on red and white checked tablecloths. For dessert, they had chocolate sundaes and retro candy--Abba Zabbas, Big Hunks and Sugar Daddys.
They were then treated to a '50s review that combined '90s video technology with live song and dance routines produced and performed entirely by Chapman students, faculty, alumni and staff.
The gala's "Fantastic Fifties: A Foundation for the Future" theme helped "draw comparisons between what the school was like in the '50s and what's going on as we proceed to the end of the century," said Bob Elliott, who co-chaired the event with his wife, Debbi.
The private university has many reasons to celebrate, he said. Despite the recession, proceeds from this year's 10th annual American Celebration topped $300,000--a record. The money provides scholarships for Chapman students.
In addition, the school has recently graduated from college to university status and just dedicated the new Pralle-Sodaro residence hall that some alumni (who remember smaller dorm rooms) compare to a fine hotel.
"There's a lot of positive things going on at the campus," Elliott said. "Education in general is getting beat up around the nation, but we're seeing enrollment going up."
The '50s theme also brought back memories to those who attended Chapman during the era.
George Argyros, chairman of Chapman's board of trustees since 1976, graduated from Chapman with a bachelor's degree in business in 1959. He was a member of the second class to attend Chapman after it moved from Los Angeles to a high school campus in Orange in 1954. Back then, only 300 students attended the college.
"It was a wonderful experience because it was so small," Argyros said. "It gave me the opportunity to get close to professors." Argyros started the Arnel Development company in 1962 and is now on the Forbes 400 list.
Back to the future
Although enrollment at Chapman has grown to 2,300, the university is no large, impersonal institution. Class size is usually 15 to 20 students, compared to classes with hundreds of students at larger campuses.
"We are a university," Doti said, "but we still have the soul of a liberal arts college. Preserving that caring atmosphere is what Chapman University is all about."
That close-knit family atmosphere was reflected in the evening's entertainment.
Those seated around tables watched as their sons and daughters, spouses and siblings put on a show described by Doti as "professional and sophisticated." Judy and Alan Boroskin showed up to see their son, Aaron, a senior at Chapman, wearing a tuxedo and playing the trombone.
Chapman communications professor Ron Thronson produced and directed the show, which mixed video images from '50s television shows and movies on three large screens with live group and solo performances. Student performers impersonated Elvis, Peggy Lee, the Platters and other '50s stars while the audience clapped and whooped to the music.
Chapman University would not have made the transition from small college to growing university without the support of the surrounding community. Among the many patrons attending the gala: Georgia Frontiere, Marion Knott and Tony Montepart, Gaddi and Elaine Vasquez, John and Donna Crean, Tom and Emma Jane Riley, Doy and Dee Henley and Chuck and Twyla Martin.