By Barbara Lowell
There may have been a blizzard brewing back east this week, but here in the desert, an avalanche of financial support snowballed into an outpouring of generosity that left everything covered in a gleaming wonderland of philanthropy.
For Eisenhower Medical Center, the scene is nothing short of awe-inspiring: Supporters raised $3 million during a single event, which put them over the top of a fund-raising goal of $25 million to fund a major renovation.
The gala event was hosted by Phyllis and Dennis Washington at their elegant store, Maison Felice – Phyllis Washington Antiques, for nearly 200 guests.
The theme for the evening was “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Guests donned their finest hospital robes, surgical scrubs, patient gowns and nurses’ uniforms for an evening devoted to recognizing many of the Medical Center’s major donors.
In attendance were Greg and Stacey Renker, Harold Matzner, Shellie Reade, Jan Salta, Bill and Cydney Osterman, Joy Goldstein, Helene Galen, Jack and Patti Grundhofer, Miles and Sally Berger, William and Scarlett Adams, Al and Cathy Annexstad, Curtis and Selby Dunham, Sam and Ann Ginn, Bob Howard and Peggy Jacobs, Mike and Suzy Leprino, Mary Lester, JoAnn McGrath, Terry and Donna McKay, Ed and Gail Peterson, Harry and Diane Rinker, Bob and Karen Rishwain, Bob and Marion Rosenthal, Paul and June Schorr, Robin and Carlyn Stonehill, David and Joan Traitel, Jerome and Susie Weintraub, Kenneth and Linda Yontz, Barbara Fremont, Dianne Moss, Paul von Gontard and many others.
Comedian Chris Blackmore began the festivities by introducing Phyllis Washington, who admitted the only way she would do another fundraiser is if it was “fun and different.”
She succeeded — from the bubbling beaker bottles and balloonist to the mad scientist bartenders and Jell-O shot-filled syringes, this party was definitely fun and different. Guests noshed on an array of appetizers, a sushi buffet and desserts ranging from cream puffs to cotton candy.
Dennis Washington and Suzy Leprino spoke to the crowd at the event. Their compelling testimonies, without a doubt, inspired many guests to give, including Mike and Suzy Leprino, Bob Howard and Peggy Jacobs – whose contributions became substantial leadership gifts.
Additionally, Harold Matzner, Chuck and Stacie Mathewson, Miles and Sally Berger, David and Joan Traitel, Richard and Cheryl Bressler, Carol Price, Mary Lester, Dean and Rosemarie Buntrock made major contributions to the Ike Wing.
After a spirited live auction with eight incredible auction items, more than $3 million was raised for the Ike Wing campaign.
“It was an astounding, magical night,” said Michael Landes, president of the Medical Center Foundation, the fundraising arm of Eisenhower.
Maison Felice, which translates to “house of Phyllis” was actually the capstone event of a campaign that began a little over a year ago.
Money earmarked for the Ike Wing campaign will pay for a renovation and seismic retrofit of the hospital’s first building, dedicated in 1971, to ensure it can withstand a major earthquake. It’s a senate mandate that all hospitals must follow, but it’s an unfunded mandate, which means the hospitals must come up with the money themselves.
To start it off, the Washingtons donated $12.5 million with a challenge to fellow supporters to kick in funds. Four hospital board members quickly stepped up and committed $1 million each. Later, several valley residents donated $100,000 each; more huge donations started rolling in.
“Our community of supporters are so incredibly generous and it’s that kind of sustained support that has not only help build a hospital, but develop an amazing medical center which continues to meet the ever-growing needs of our growing community,” said Landes.
Foundation officials believe helping Eisenhower Medical Center is a matter of residents wanting to support an organization that has done so much for the community. “We have so many incredible residents who have come from back east and the Midwest, where they’re familiar with Cedars Sinai, Mayo Clinic, so when they’re here at their other home, they still realize that healthcare is important,” said Lee Rice, who handles marketing for Eisenhower.
The not-for-profit hospital has seen its share of heavy hitters during previous fundraising efforts.
Bob and Dolores Hope were tireless in their efforts to get the hospital built; Gerald Ford, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis, Jr. and many other famous faces lent their talents to help raise money.
But it has been local residents – celebrities in their own rite – who keep the magic alive. Early on during a board meeting discussion about the Ike Wing project in late 2013, a special thing happened.
Upon hearing what was needed, Greg Renker offered $1 million. Jackie Autry, Harold Matzner and Jim Houston followed suit with a million each; $8 million in pledges was raised in a matter of minutes, remembers CEO G. Aubrey Serfling, who recounted the event at the Eisenhower Five Star Gala that year.
“It was the most amazing experience of my life,” he told the crowd.
“Probably 98 percent of our donations are not from huge corporations but rather from people who understand the need,” Rice said. “They’ll say, ‘Thank you for the work that you’re doing.’ It’s just an amazing thing.”
To contact the Eisenhower Medical Center Foundation call (760) 773-1888 or visit emc.org