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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 15th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 32

Hobnobbing With Helen


United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County’s board convenes before “An Emerald Evening,” a fundraiser held on Oct. 12 at the Santa Maria Country Club. United Way CEO Eddie Taylor (seated) was joined by (from left to right) Greg Ibsen, Sandra Dickerson, Brandon Downing, Kathy Boysen, board president Austin Petty, Mike Cordero, Carlos Castaneda, and Marisol Cruz.

Imagine this: you walk into the foyer of the Santa Maria Country Club and sense that you have stumbled into an Enchanted Forest. The room is flooded with green light. Lifelike faux trees sport leaf-laden branches that arch overhead, dripping with lengths of crystals. Containers of flowers, on faux stone paths, line the walls.

Can you feel your jaw drop? Does this not feel like a magical moment?

This highly original presentation was part of the scene at the 7th annual United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County's Mayors' Ball, "An Emerald Evening," a fundraiser held on Oct. 12.

The 160-plus delighted guests traveled through the "forest" to the bar, where emerald-green melon martinis awaited. This was after they detoured to the photography "studio," where Heidi Gruetzemacher took photographs.

The plan for this event veered from the usual—there weren't any auctions.

Among the crowd were Joyce Ellen Lippman, Dr. Roland Miller, Dr. Betty Tibbs, Sheriff Bill Brown with wife Donna, and Cary Gray. Chris Mellenkopf came with daughter Alexandra.

Hobnobbing's sense was that more people showed up in formal dress than is the norm at most nonprofit events. There were lots of oh-so-attractive evening gowns and black tie.

Among the attendees were Etta and Buck Waterfield and Liz and David Addamo. Former Grover Beach mayor John Shoals arrived with
wife Staci.

And there were more decorating surprises! The dining room was dark—almost pitch black—when we were allowed to enter. Spots of green light, smaller than a dime, dotted the floors, walls, and ceiling. Branches hung from the chandeliers, which elicited more of the "Enchanted Forest" feeling. Tiny candles (not green) flickered on the tables, whose rose centerpieces were—yes, you guessed it—green.

The effect was dramatic and different, though I did feel that someone should be playing "Dancing in the Dark" while we acclimated ourselves to the situation.

In the front row (from left to right) are Guadalupe Mayor Frances Romero, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, and Buellton Mayor Judith Dale. In the back row (from left to right) are United Way Board President Austin Petty, Lompoc Mayor John Linn, Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson, and United Way CEO Eddie Taylor.

At my table, I had a good view of a stunning tableau, "The Emerald City," placed along the back wall of the dining room: an artistic collection of cardboard skyscrapers, green and sparkly—
the highest was about 3 feet tall—commanded awe.

The tableau, along with the faux trees in the foyer, was the work of Butch Kohl, a business partner of Robert Dickerson, the husband of the event chairperson and board member, Sandra Dickerson.

During dinner, PCPA's Katie Gucik sang. Steve Lavagnino made us laugh as he emceed, and Jim Diani gave the invocation.

Former school superintendent Jack Garvin spoke about the importance of literacy, and United Way's CEO Eddie Taylor explained how their literacy program works.

During a call for donations, Sam Cohen, representing the Chumash Band of Indians, pledged $5,000.

We played the always popular "Head and Tails" game, which participants buy into by acquiring a coin that costs $20. The winner won a weekend at a resort near San Diego.

Hobnobbing happily shared a table with Mike and Jan Kirkwood and Peter and Jeanne Sterling. Kirkwood is president of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County.

The evening ended with the San Luis Jazz Band playing for dancing. And I almost forgot to mention the saxophone player outside, the bass and guitar players in the lobby, and the piano player in the bar!

Eddie Taylor, reflecting on the success of the evening, acknowledged that the dazzling delights of "An Emerald Evening" will be a hard act to follow.


If you want to hobnob with Helen, you may contact her at

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