The Signal | Tuesday, September 22, 1998
Smoke from Saturday's brush fire in the center of the city wafted straight up Mint Canyon to the old rock house a dozen miles away, but that didn't deter an overflow crowd from spending more money than ever before to aid the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's home-delivered meals program.*
For seven years we have absolutely relied on Jo Anne Darcy. She has given us the ability to never say no to anyone, unlike other agencies.
We don't have to put anyone on a waiting list. It makes us a standout in the state. And that is so much to Jo Anne's credit, it's unbelievable.
— Brad Berens
Director, SCV Senior Center
The event was the annual Benefit Wine and Silent Auction, the place was Le Chêne French Cuisine restaurant, and the beneficiaries were some 220 frail and elderly SCV residents who receive home-delivered meals from the Senior Center's volunteer drivers every day.
"Unbelievable!" said Senior Center Director Brad Berens when he learned that the wine auction raised more than $52,000 and netted $47,600. "This will cover a year and a half to two years of the deficit in the home-delivered meals program."
Meals are partially funded through donations from recipients and a grant from the federal Older Americans Act, but those sources don't cover the entire cost. The Newhall-based facility runs a deficit of approximately $1 per meal, and the wine auction is counted on each year to make up the difference, Berens said.
It was a meal of another kind that attracted donors to Saturday's event — without a doubt the best meal on the local charity event circuit. Sold out days prior to the auction, 343 guests enjoyed a feast of tender beef and chicken delicately prepared by Le Chêne chef Juan Alonso.
About 100 more dinner tickets were sold this year than last year, when $37,000 was raised, according to Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Jo Anne Darcy, who has organized the auction in each of its seven years.
"For seven years we have absolutely relied on Jo Anne Darcy," said Berens. "She has given us the ability to never say no to anyone, unlike other agencies. We don't have to put anyone on a waiting list. It makes us a standout in the state. And that is so much to Jo Anne's credit, it's unbelievable."
Berens said the Senior Center serves the second-largest territory in California (the largest is the Antelope Valley) and that about 5,000 SCV residents lake advantage of one or more of its programs each year. A second facility is under construction on Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus, and it too will have a central kitchen that will serve the community both on-site and through the home-delivered meals program.
Berens attributed the growth of the wine auction to a core group of volunteers who have promoted it throughout the valley.
"There are about 60 to 100 people who have supported us for years. Usually in the past, the volunteers who did all the work also bought everything. Now those people have gone out into the community and let other people know how great (the event) is."
One of the most effective spokespeople, Berens said, is Stan Sierad, a past president of the SCV Committee on Aging and grand poo-bah of the Senior Center. Sierad's cowbell could be heard above the roar of the crowd Saturday as he called for bids in the silent auction, which included an array of wines, gift baskets, jewelry and interesting objects d'art — such as an African drum from Remo, Inc.
Of particular note in the silent auction were the colorful bird houses, similar to the Meals-on-Wheels donation houses seen in local stores. They are made by volunteer Chuck Belcher, who gave a little bit more to the Senior Center this year than just the tiny homes.
"He chopped it off a couple of months ago building a bird house," said Sierad, pointing to Belcher's left thumb. Half of it was missing.
New to the event this year was a wine tasting hosted by Sonoma Valley expert David Hellman of the Vons store in Stevenson Ranch and Paul Young of the Vons in Newhall.
"One of our customers, (Valencia Bank and Trust president) John Reardon, asked if we'd do something for the benefit. The wine tasting gives people a chance to get in tune with the auction," said Hellman, adding that he will "do anything Jo Anne needs" for next year's event.
Guests were entirely "in tune" when Gregg Lawler took the microphone shortly after 2 p.m. Lawler, now in his third year of wine auctioning, has slid fully into the role of premier Santa Clarita Valley volunteer auctioneer following the 1996 death of the former title holder, Dan Hon.
Lawler opened by admonishing his spotters to "scream like you're at a rock concert" so he wouldn't miss any bids. Karl McCarthy, one of last year's big spenders, obliged with a high-pitched shriek as he placed the winning bid of $60 on a 3-liter warm-up item.
Lawler held the pace for five hours as he hammered down not only the California and international wines that Darcy, Alonso, Sierad and others had assembled throughout the year, but also exercise equipment, a bicycle, dining set and weekend getaways.
Michele Altamirano of Northridge won $900 in a 50-50 raffle. Then a trip to Las Vegas took the early lead at $450 until the bidding war of the day broke out.
The smoky sky seemed to be the limit as Lawler worked a dinner for 6 at Alonso's home into the stratosphere. Only two bidders remained as the price reached $2,000, then $2,200, then $2,500. Auction spotter Barbara Stearns-Cochran helped coax a $2,800 bid out of Newhall oral surgeon Dr. John Scaramella, but it proved to be his last. Whether it was the exuberance of Lawler or the frantic pompom waving of spotter Pat Warford may never be known. When the hammer fell, it fell on local building contractor Charlie Rasmussen at $3,000.
Lesser bidding wars pockmarked the rest of the afternoon, such as the one that saw Pauline Harte unknowingly outbid her own husband, Duane, for a $175 Franklin Mint collectors' doll that the couple could have brought home for $150.
The dozens of volunteers and donors who made the event an outrageous success are too numerous to list, but committee chairpersons not named above include: Bill Cooper, Bill and Darken Lyons, Jane Millray, Ruth Clark, Del Guyer, Don Kimball, Elfreda Higgins, Gloria Barrett, Cathie Kincheloe, Joe Sarro, Adele Macpherson and Jim Stone.
*Note: The original story said "Meals on Wheels." But Meals on Wheels is a trademark. The SCV Senior Center's home-delivered meals program was not and is not affiliated with the Meals on Wheels Association of America.