A Toast To Community

2014-02-17 18:17:59

Coast Magazine had not presented its Community Awards since 2001, but “It made sense to resurrect them,” said Editor-in-Chief Justine Amodeo during opening remarks at a dinner celebrating the nominees February 3 at AnQi Bistro in South Coast Plaza.

“The list was impressive,” said Executive Editor Kedric Francis of the 48 finalists in 12 categories that included arts organizations, environmental crusaders, educational institutions, city projects, businesses, health organizations, couples, individuals, and volunteers. Freedom Communications' CEO and co-owner Aaron Kushner, and Freedom President and co-owner Eric Spitz, leaders of the magazine's parent company, helped give out the awards.

Honorees were toasted with wine and cocktails at a reception and treated to a three-course dinner with gourmet pot stickers, butterfish, steak, and tres leches cake. Montage, a vocal ensemble from the Orange County School of the Arts, sang to them.

Lifetime achievement winner Henry Segerstrom was lauded by Francis, who said, “Without his steadfast vision this place would be very different from the one we all know and love,” and in a video presentation that included remarks from architect Cesar Pelli and sculptor Richard Serra.

“Thanks for those kind words. I believed all of them,” Segerstrom quipped.

Instead of making acceptance speeches, the rest of the winners took a Miss America-like walk down a runway before being whisked backstage for interviews taped to air later on PBS SoCal. Backstage, honorees took a minute to reflect.

“When (concert pianist) Jackie (Jon Kimura) Parker says it's one of the finest halls he's ever performed in, that's what I hope to bring to South County,” said David Palmer, after accepting the Educational Institution award for the Soka University Performing Arts Center.

“We started a new event and we didn't know if anyone would go. But Orange County came out and embraced it,” said Valarie Van Cleave, who received an award for Oceana's seven-year-old SeaChange Summer Party gala with Eve Kornyei Ruffatto.

Honored for individual achievement, Susan Samueli, co-owner of the Anaheim Ducks and founder of Orangewood's 44 Women for Children, said her approach to philanthropy is simple.

She thrives on helping others and she always has fun no matter the project.

“I'm passionate about the events I get involved in,” Samueli said. “I get to meet a lot of people and enjoying yourself (while volunteering and giving) is part of it.”

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