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'A Perfect Partnership' : Philanthropic Group Medellas Is Working With Bowers to Fund Asian Exhibits

October 10, 1994|ANN CONWAY

It was a discrimination story that was headlined around the world: Olympic diving gold medalist Sammy Lee discouraged from buying a home in Orange County.

The year was 1955 and Lee--a medical doctor fresh from a stint in the Army--and his wife, Roz, wanted to settle down in Garden Grove.

Uh-uh, said their would-be neighbors. "People didn't want Asians in their neighborhood then," said Roz. "They wanted to keep it 'white.' "

Devastated but determined, the couple found a home in Anaheim and moved in. "Everybody called us blockbusters," said Roz.

"We were the first ones to fight the situation. We were the first Asian couple in Orange County to move into a neighborhood they wanted to live in."

There is no anger in her voice. It was a long time ago, she says, calmly.

She laughs when she recalls a trip he made to Indonesia in 1956. "Even there, they knew!" she said. "They asked Sammy: 'Did you ever find a home in Orange County?' "

Almost 40 years and a few Orange County homes later, social activist Roz Lee is living happily with her husband in Huntington Harbour.

And one of her greatest accomplishments, say her grateful friends, is the social club for wives of Asian professionals she helped found in 1967--the Medellas.

"My husband was one of the first Asian doctors in Orange County," she explained. "Orange County was very spread out then. We felt it would be nice if we could get professional Asian people together to get to know one another."

The couple went through the phone book, seeking out the names of Asian doctors, dentists and attorneys. "We had about 30 people over for coffee that first time," Roz said. "The women decided to get together often."

What began as a social club has turned into a full-fledged philanthropic organization with the Medellas pledging last week to raise $100,000 on behalf of an endowment for the annual Asian art exhibits held at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana.

(In recent years, members of the Medellas have raised $126,000 to benefit an endowment fund at UC Irvine for medical, law and dental school scholarships for graduating seniors.)

"This is a perfect partnership," said Patricia House, the museum's director of development. "The mission of the Medellas is to promote Asian culture and awareness and the Bowers' mission is to promote cultural awareness. And, Asia is one of our mission statement areas."

Over the next six years, the Medellas will stage three fashion shows, the first on April 5 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

Proceeds from the benefit, expected to be attended by 700 people, will be about $42,000, says Katherine Lam, event co-chairwoman with Ellen Ong. The price will be $100 for an up-front "gold table," said Lam, and $55 for regular seating.

"Fashion shows work very well for us," said Lam. "The Medellas women love them; they bring their friends, and everybody wins."

Featured at the first show will be the Kimono Collection of Honolulu designer Anne Yuri Namba. She transforms fabric for traditional Japanese kimonos into chic and elegant pieces of contemporary wear--a look where East meets West, old meets new. (Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Namba fan.)

Next month, members of the Medellas will go to San Francisco to catch Namba's show on behalf of the Asian Art Museum.

"We keep busy," said Wendy Nishikawa, one of the group's young members. "What's really interesting about the Medellas is that we're Pan-Asian, and that we were founded by a first generation of women who were typically spouses of doctors, lawyers and dentists.

"Now, new members are a second generation of women, some of whom are daughters of the original members, some of whom are spouses of professionals, and many of whom are themselves doctors, lawyers and dentists."


Severin Wunderman home opens for party: Telephone calls, not printed invitations, are being used to invite members of Orange County's social set to the Severin Wunderman manse at Camel Point, Laguna Beach, on Oct. 30 for a "development tea," says Mary Crost, publicist for the Severin Wunderman Museum in Irvine.

The goal: a low-key push for financial support for the museum. "We basically want to introduce people to the Severin Wunderman Museum," Crost said. "We're trying to get more involved in the community. We have 2,000 works now. We have grown."

The reclusive Wunderman may attend the tea being held in his three-story, 10,000-square-foot seaside abode. "With Severin, one never knows," Crost said.


A blushing Firebird: Visitors to the Orange County Performing Arts Center aren't sure what to make of the new shock-red Firebird that is on display under the facility's Grand Arch.

Used to be the Richard Lippold sculpture was an elegant, burnished red. Now, it looks more fire-engine than Firebird.

"It's a work-in-progress," explains Greg Patterson, center spokesman. "The Firebird needed to be painted. It had faded over the past eight years. But painting the anodized metal didn't turn out the way we had hoped. We are looking for another process."

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