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AIDS Benefit Reaches Its Finish Line

September 14, 2000|PAMELA DIAMOND

High-spirited applause and nostalgia were in the air as the sun set on the final Big Splash.

The 15th annual AIDS Services Foundation Orange County benefit raised $830,000 in four days of performances with this year's show, "Splashin' Under the Big Top!"

The poolside musical--billed as "The Wettest Show on Earth"--was held for the last time Sunday at the Laguna Beach home of foundation board members Ken Jillson and Al Roberts.

"We're witnessing the end of an era tonight," said Jillson, who conceived of the backyard show with Roberts in 1985. "It's been a great privilege to be able to do this over the years and to have people into our home."

It was time to stop, said David Armendariz, the foundation's deputy director of external affairs.

"If you can imagine, it's been a lot of wear and tear on Ken and Al. The event has been successful . . . and, like a good sitcom, you want to go out on top."

Before the show, guests gathered in the street for cocktails. To view the show, they wound their way down a path to backyard bleachers, from where they not only had an ocean view but a seat for the rousing, spoof of circus life.

There were colorful clown antics, roller-skating bears, sequined showgirls and guys, and the Aquanettes' performing their un-synchronized swimming. The all-volunteer cast lip-synced its way through a soundtrack of celebrity voices, including those of Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Whoopi Goldberg, Bea Arthur and Phyllis Diller.

Afterward, guests lined up for a street-side buffet, then dined poolside at the home of next-door neighbors Mark Porterfield and Steve Chadima.

Underlying the festive atmosphere was a sense of community pride in what had been accomplished in the past 15 years. The Big Splash has raised more than $4 million, 100% of which has gone to AIDS Services Foundation programs.

Denise LaVigne, a Big Splash volunteer and ASF client since 1992, has experienced firsthand the benefits the organization offers, including counseling, transportation, home care and a food pantry.

"Wherever life leaves you, they pick up from there and do for you what you cannot," she said.

Roberts and Jillson were honored for their support of the event during Sunday's festivities.

"Splash may be going away, but we'll still be there," Roberts said. 'It's absolutely mind-boggling the number of new AIDS cases we've seen, especially those involving young people. We've got our job cut out for us."

For information on the foundation: (949) 253-1500.

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