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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Some Wild Times Down on the Farm : Rain and a new roller coaster spice up the Knott's hoedown benefiting Olive Crest.

June 20, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD

Knott's Berry Farm's Wild West Spectacular, a fund-raiser for abused and neglected children, had its share of ups and downs thanks to a marathon roller coaster ride and on-and-off rain.

Despite the drizzles, more than 300 guests donned cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats and attended the hoedown Friday at Knott's picnic center in Buena Park. The $75-per-person gala was expected to net more than $40,000 for Olive Crest Homes & Services for Abused Children in Santa Ana.

Pioneer Spirit

Guests--many of whom arrived an hour or more late due to heavy traffic and pouring rain--spent the first part of the evening enjoying an old-fashioned fried chicken dinner with berry pie. A few hardy couples even danced in the rain to a country band.

Virginia Knott Bender, who chaired the party with her husband, Paul Bender, recalled the early days of the park, which was founded by her father Walter Knott 75 years ago.

"It didn't start out as an amusement park," she said. "We raised berries and sold them at a roadside stand. It was during the Depression, and Mom began making pies and coffee." Soon the Knotts were serving chicken dinners, and the lines grew so long that Walter Knott decided to build a ghost town to entertain customers.

"He wanted people to learn about the pioneers," she said.

After dinner, guests were free to roam what has become a sprawling amusement park. Wearing buttons that allowed them to board the rides without waiting in line, many guests headed for "Jaguar!," Knott's newest roller coaster.

David McElwee, director of Olive Crest's capital campaign, declared the ride "really, really fast."

Dr. Donald Verleur, who founded Olive Crest with his wife, Lois, in 1972, joined the guests who preferred to keep their cowboy boots on the ground. "My stomach is probably not strong enough," he said.

Just Like Home

Every year the Benders choose a different charity to benefit from the Wild West gala. Olive Crest, which shelters abused children in homes throughout Orange and neighboring counties, was the recipient for the third time.

"There's a tremendous need for foster-family growth," Verleur said. "We can't get enough homes to put kids in.

"When cocaine entered California pretty hard, families started to disintegrate. Almost all of our kids come from that kind of environment."

The Verleurs started Olive Crest to provide a home environment for abused children. No more than six children reside in one home.

"I had a private psychology practice and saw a need for mainstreaming children in community-type homes rather than having 150 kids together in an institution," Verleur said.

Olive Crest has 340 children living in homes and serves 100 others through its day programs. There is a waiting list for the homes.

Among the guests at the benefit were John and Donna Crean, hosts of an underwriting party that helped boost the event's proceeds; Marion Knott Monepart; Darrel Anderson; Woody and Gina Oklejas; Jeannie Awad; Bill Palmer and Betty Belden Palmer; Rick and Kathleen Letts; Russell and Mildred Knott; Steve and Holly Pizula; Chuck Mountain; Leo and Leone Baroldi; Mario and Diane Antoci; David Schmid; Walt Havekorst; Ann Van Ausdeln, and Steve Charton.

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