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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : A Good Time Is Had by All . . . Aboard! : Despite a detour (to the Four Seasons) because of rain, the train-themed benefit for the South County Community Clinic stays on track.

June 21, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD

Those attending All Aboard! The Orient Express, a benefit for the South County Community Clinic, found themselves at an unexpected destination Friday.

Rain forced members of the clinic auxiliary to move their party from the gardens of Arthur and Gaye Birtcher's San Juan Capistrano home to the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach. Despite the last-minute change, 360 guests arrived on time for the $150-per-person dinner. The event netted more than $80,000 for the clinic, which has recently been renamed the Camino Health Centers.

All Aboard to Newport

By 1:30 p.m. Friday, committee members had set up tables at the Birtcher estate and moved out 63 items for their silent auction when chairwoman Diana Cahill took one last look at the "graying clouds of doom hanging over our heads" and made the announcement: They were moving the party to the Four Seasons.

"It got to the point where we had to make a decision or we were going to run out of time," she said.

The hotel, which was catering the event, had a ballroom available and helped the auxiliary move everything up the coast--including the Four Seasons china that had already made the trip south. Auxiliary volunteers lent their vans to the cause. The heads of each table were enlisted to call their guests.

By 6 p.m., when the first "passengers" arrived, everything was in place--as if committee members had planned it that way all along.

"This could have been a disaster--it shows what a great organization we have," said Linda Berkshire, auxiliary president. Berkshire said that, after helping with the move, she'd managed to shower, fix her hair and change into her black velvet hat and sparkling dress in just 20 minutes.

"It takes me longer to get dressed to go to the supermarket," she quipped.

Gaye Birtcher, auxiliary founder, marveled at the members' ability to pull off the party.

"When it rains, they walk on water," she said.

Smooth Ride

Organizers played with the train theme. Inside the ballroom, tables were decorated with floral centerpieces adorned with miniature train tracks and a map of the route traveled by the Orient Express.

Guests dressed in fancy traveling clothes and cocktail attire from the '20s, '30s and '40s. Beaded flapper dresses, '30s gowns, pillbox hats with veils and fur wraps were seen. Guys wore vintage suits, traveling sport coats and hats. Those selling tickets for a drawing wore conductor uniforms.

Carolyn Bent, wife of clinic director Tom Bent, played the role of a '30s Orient Express passenger perfectly. Sporting a vintage dress and pillbox hat that she borrowed from the Laguna Beach Playhouse, she entered the party toting a small suitcase and waving a long cigarette holder.

"I can't stay. I've got a train to catch," she said, in a throaty, Tallulah Bankhead voice.

In keeping with the theme, dinner featured courses from every country along the train's famed route. The meal began with hors d'oeuvres from Asia, including crab and cheese won-tons and vegetable spring rolls.

Dinner took place in Italy with grilled beef filet and Chianti sauce and zucchini with ratatouille. For dessert, the menu stopped in France for creme bru^lee with fresh raspberries. Guests finished the trip in England with truffles and port wine.

Proceeds will benefit the San Juan Capistrano-based clinic, which provides medical services to those in need. More than 60 volunteer doctors donate their services.

"Patients can get everything from psychological to physical care," said Doreen Pagel, who will soon take over as auxiliary president.

Among those attending the gala were Marcia McCormack, executive vice president, and her husband, Michael; Dana Dowers; Mike Walker; Robert and Juin Foresman; Robert Regan; Michael and Zara Cerni; Mary Liuzzi; Wayne and Mamie Mertes; David and Teresa Schickling; Michael and Anne Crawford; Diane Robinson; Beth Carney; Jerry and Arlene Baker, and Anita Houston.

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