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Judges Mark Up a Strong Tree as a Hospital Benefit Takes Root

ANN CONWAY

December 04, 1995|ANN CONWAY

Sotera Townsend sent in the clowns and won $2,500.

A competitor in the inaugural Festival of Trees benefit at Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza over the weekend, the interior designer won the People's Choice Award with a fir decorated with clown dolls, tops and crystal balloons.

"I chose a clown theme because I wanted bright, happy faces that weren't scary to children," said Townsend at the kickoff of the four-day benefit that raked in $200,000 for Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach.

It wasn't easy finding the clowns. "They weren't available in toy stores," said Townsend, of Costa Mesa. "If kids don't see it on television, stores don't sell it. I found them at Pier 1 Imports."

On Friday, festival organizers and committee members ogled the forest of decorated trees--still on view today--that dotted Crystal Court, oohing and ahhing over the creativity of the designers.

Electa Anderson of Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach filled her "Gardening Angels" tree with hydrangeas and terra cotta cherubs holding gilded gardening tools. Diane Smith and Kim Schneider of Santa Ana dreamed up "Call of the Wild," a tree hung with exotic feather masks, silk birds of paradise and ornaments fashioned from leopard cloth.

Artfully decorated trees can mean big bucks for charity. Festival trees were on sale for $1,000 each. "And that includes delivery and fluffing up," said Billur Wallerich, director of community relations for South Coast Plaza.

"Welcome to a new Southern California tradition," said Hoag Hospital activist Paul Nyquist, co-chair with Karen Whitaker of the event. "Five years from now, we're hoping this will be Orange County's answer to the Rose Parade," he said.

Tree festivals are nothing new, noted a hospital spokeswoman. They are orchestrated all over the country for charity.

The most successful one is staged in Atlanta, with proceeds of $850,000, Nyquist said. "They have a weeklong event with a parade and hold it in an arena transformed into a winter wonderland. We're hoping someday to do the same thing."

For now, the Festival of Trees has a three-year commitment to Crystal Court. "And we're \o7 grateful\f7 ," Nyquist said.

Weekend activities included a $150-per-person black-tie gala on Saturday with Renee and Henry Segerstrom--he is managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, owner of South Coast Plaza--serving as honorary co-chairs.

Traditionally, Hoag Hospital has staged a gala in a Newport Beach hotel for its holiday fund-raiser. But members of the hospital's 552 Club support group were eager to expand the concept. "A ball is wonderful, but we also wanted a low-cost, community-oriented event where all of Orange County could participate," Whitaker said.

Tree Festival committee member Nora Jorgensen-Johnson attended all but one of the hospital's holiday balls, she said. "The gala began as the Voices of Christmas with John Wayne reciting 'One Solitary Life' and Andy Devine reading 'The Night Before Christmas.' "

She has mixed feelings about seeing the end of a beloved tradition. "I'm sad about the ball not being in Newport Beach," Jorgensen-Johnson said, "but glad too, because the festival gives us the opportunity to introduce the ball and the hospital to more people."

The festival, which closes tonight, is open to the public. Viewing hours are from noon to 9 p.m. There is no admission charge. A special program for senior citizens begins at 9:30 a.m.

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Fashionable for the holidays: Some things never change. The hundreds who crowd The Ritz restaurant in Newport Beach for the annual Christmas at the Ritz can depend on serenades by carolers, greetings from Santa Claus, cold poached Norwegian king salmon with dill sauce, and friends sporting some of the best-looking holiday finery in the county.

Tradition! "I insist upon it," said Mary Lou Hopkins-Hornsby, president of the Fashionables, a support group of Chapman University. "People who come to this Fashionables event know it's going to be good holiday party."

Included in Saturday's festivities was a drawing for opportunity prizes--"all worth at least $500," Hopkins-Hornsby said--that included a weekend at the posh Carlyle Hotel in New York and assorted gift packages from Tiffany & Co., Escada and Chanel.

"We have a tradition that winners \o7 must\f7 be present," Hopkins-Hornsby said. "That creates excitement." And a crowd. It was almost impossible to wend your way through the happy crush.

Proceeds will benefit the university's proposed All Faiths Chapel. Peggy and Les Cotton, along with Hans and Charlene Prager, were honorary co-chairs of the event. Lucille Adams was chairwoman.

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Perpetuating a White House tradition: Former White House Chef Hans Raffert--who whipped up fare for the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush and Reagan administrations--was feted at a special holiday luncheon last week by directors of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.

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