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The Blossoming of a Philanthropist : Anton Segerstrom Cultivates His Green Thumb--and a Helping Hand

ANN CONWAY

February 12, 1996|Ann Conway

Following in his father's footsteps is no cakewalk for Anton Segerstrom.

Quiet, reluctant to attend large gatherings, the youngest son of arts philanthropist Henry Segerstrom would rather be on a surfboard than in a ballroom.

But he is making his mark. On Friday night, 375 supporters of Court Appointed Special Advocates attended a Newport Beach gala where Segerstrom, 38, was honored for his philanthropy on behalf of children.

The event marked the second time he has been honored. The Food Distribution Center of Orange County has also singled him out. "They surprised me," Segerstrom said last week, taking a break from his job as general manager of Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. "That was in some ways more comfortable. There wasn't the anticipation."

Raised in an atmosphere of wealth and privilege, Segerstrom lives the good life, enjoying travel ("Europe, all of the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, Canada," he says), art collecting ("mine is 'big-name' contemporary"), vintage wine and fine food.

And he doesn't feel guilty about it. "I've never felt I needed to justify my existence," said Segerstrom, whose home is in Corona del Mar. "Our family has had tremendous fortune, but it's interesting--the harder you work, the more fortune you have.

"The important thing, our family believes, is to be very dedicated about giving back. And that is something I am very grateful to be able to do."

On Friday night, his father was among those who came to honor him. While enjoying the reception at the Sutton Place Hotel, Henry Segerstrom said he has never expected his son to be anything but his own man.

"I like Anton to just be himself," Segerstrom said. "He is a wonderful son. He has very high ethics, very high ideals and a very generous heart."

Segerstrom also admires his son's "remarkable physical accomplishments," he said.

"He is an expert surfer, went to Bali and surfed 15-foot waves. And he climbed the face of Half Dome in Yosemite, spent two nights in a hammock" on the side of a mountain.

"After that I said, 'Anton, you've done it. Don't try it again,' " Segerstrom said, chuckling.

"From the time he left college, he has followed his own course. He didn't enter our business right away.

"He has accomplished so many things on his own that he has a core of self-confidence."

When Anton Segerstrom isn't at work or attending a charity outreach--he serves on the boards of the Food Distribution Center, the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, Someone Cares Soup Kitchen and the Discovery Science Center--he is tending his tropical garden and the 40 orchid plants he keeps in a greenhouse.

He gets his green thumb from his grandmother, Ruth Segerstrom, 98, a Hoosier whose great-great grandfather was given a plot of land by President Andrew Jackson.

"She is very talented--has a super green thumb," he said. "I suppose it's kind of trickled through the family."

Spending an evening with close friends--including his girlfriend, Nina Pweepong, a florist--is also high on his priority list.

His idea of a perfect social evening? "Surfing on the California coast in the early evening with friends, then gathering for some good food, fine wine and interesting conversation," he said.

Is marriage on the horizon? "I have no plans, but I would like to get married and have kids someday."

In coming weeks, Segerstrom hopes he will be invited to fill the shoes of Jim Henwood, the former general manager of South Coast Plaza (which is owned by the Segerstrom family).

"I'd like to think I'm at least a candidate," he said, laughing. "It would be nice. It would make sense. I'm very excited about what's been happening here."

*

Rockwell exhibit: "It brings a tear to my eyes," said John Dravinski as he viewed the paintings at Thursday's opening of the "Scouting With Norman Rockwell" exhibit at the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

"Not only do these paintings take me back to when I was a scout, they make me think of my son, who has been a scout for eight years."

Dravinski, manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point, was among 160 donors to the Boy Scouts of America who attended the opening-night reception, sponsored by the museum and the scouts' Orange County Council.

On view at the two-day art show: adventures in scouting as seen by one of "America's great painters," said museum director Michael Botwinick.

"One of the paintings, 'The Scoutmaster,' was begun right here on the Newport Beach bluffs in 1953," Botwinick said. "Remember, Jamboree Road was named after the Boy Scout Jamboree that was held here that year.

"Rockwell did his first sketches for that painting here."

Also among guests was Carolyn Ammerman of Vista, widow of Marshall Ammerman, the man who posed for "The Scoutmaster." "I was 14 when I met him . . . he was 16," Ammerman, 82, said. "We both graduated from UCLA and were married for 55 years. Seeing this painting is pretty wonderful."

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