Wednesday, September 07, 2005 | In what was a week of what could only be called eventless in the normal charity schedule for San Diego, the last several days have been markedly different. Hurricane Katrina came to the Gulf States and ravaged life and buildings, as well as rattled our American sense of stability.
Volunteers used their Labor Day weekend and more not to kick back, but rather, to give back. Charity took on a new face in San Diego. Many have given their monies to hardworking organizations like the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.
Others, like Wal-Mart, have created more job opportunities specifically for hurricane victims. Kearny High School opened up their school gym to 80-plus Hurricane Katrina evacuees. And San Diegan medical and rescue teams dispatched themselves to help hurricane victims in need.
San Diegans have a long history of giving. No matter what the amount of money or time, giving is to be commended. This week’s column is but a quick reflection on a few San Diego charitable moments.
– Amidst the many charity events in San Diego, one of the oldest at 90 years is the Charity Ball. The Charity Ball raises significant funds for the Children’s Hospital. One Charity Ball a few years back featured the late and great Bobby Short, singer, piano player and raconteur supreme. Bobby was a tremendously in-demand performer, and he was nice enough to agree to come West to help the event out. With Bobby as a major draw to the Charity Ball, two nights of cabaret performances were sold-out at the hosting Hotel Coronado. That was a banner year for net funds raised, which added significantly to the millions already raised by the Charity Ball to fund better care, for babies and children in desperate health needs.
– Marvin Hamlisch, the great composer and musician, performed at an elegant dinner benefiting a Jewish education organization. Marvin not only was a celebrity name draw that evening, he also was a great sport. Always composing, Marvin happily helped arrange and then pose for photos with all of the big donor patrons and then anyone else who asked. Marvin’s great attitude, combined with his performance, made giving a little extra that evening a lot easier.
– The San Diego Symphony went through rough times financially years back in the early ’90s. All that changed when Joan and Irwin Jacobs of the Qualcomm family and other big, big donors came through with millions. Inspiring more contributors too was a 1994 gala performance. Violinist Joshua Bell performed, as did the late and great comedian Dudley Moore. Dudley treated patrons to a rousing display of his classical piano acumen. A few serious patrons were mystified as Dudley got into an “Arthur” moment and performed as if he were the character Arthur and had had a wee bit too much to drink. All for good laughs among the black-tie crowd. Among the guests enjoying that particular evening was Princess Julia of Thailand.
– Sometimes it is not an organization per se, but an individual who goes the extra mile. Dr. Merrel Olesen, a popular plastic surgeon, goes quite the distance. Olesen regularly crosses the border on his own time and his own dime to surgically correct those who have facial deformities. Olesen gives them a new face on life. A face happy with new prospects and a sense of “normalcy.”
– And sometimes big names come with big shoulders, but most importantly, big hearts. Junior Seau with his Junior Seau Foundation has made leadership inroads for several Girls and Boys Clubs in San Diego. His “Shop with a Jock” event before Christmas time is always a hit. Less privileged children get paired up with a pro athlete and are given a budget, around $100 to shop for themselves and their family at a donating store. You see children thoughtfully choosing gifts – a purse for mom, a pair of sneakers for the little sister. And then it is time for pizza, cookies and an evening that sparks a lifetime of memories. Athletes willingly chip in the balance when tallies go over $100 on the shopping … who wouldn’t?
– San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care benefited from quite a party held years back on B Street Pier. An enormous tent was brought in from Los Angeles and the “bar” was decorated with artwork from New York’s celebrity hang, Sardi’s. The two Honorary Chairs were no less than David Copley and Joan Kroc. The “cheap” tickets were $1,000. The big music draw was a performance by Tony Bennett. Tony revved up the crowd quite a few notches. In fact one woman couldn’t help chatting away about Tony while he performed. Tony stopped his performance and started to talk with the woman, teasing her. Talking done, Tony got back to doing what he does best, performing. And what a performance! Tony had the audience in such a happy state that the live auction reached unexpected heights. A substantial amount of money was raised that evening, helping to provide “expert pain management and compassionate care to adults and infants living with serious life-limiting illness.”
And there are many more great moments in San Diego history reflecting a city that is generous. Sometimes it can’t be better said than a tried and true quote: “It is better to give, than to receive.”
To learn more about charitable organizations, visit
To view some past charity event coverage in San Diego, visit
Margo Schwab, an alumna of the University of San Diego’s graduate business school, reports on social/charity events, celebrities, restaurants and from time to time breaking scoops.