Fiesta may seem like ages ago, but believe it or not, there’s still more to tell. The Braille Institute Auxiliary of Santa Barbara has held the Robert Skene Invitational Polo Match and Benefit Luncheon 23 times around Old Spanish Days, but this was the first year it had a fiesta theme. The polo field entrance was stunning with a lattice wall decorated with dozens of colorful sombreros. Waiters passed out margaritas, sangria and tapas during the social hour. The luncheon tables were a bold rainbow of pink, yellow, turquoise and kiwi lime with terra cotta pots of begonias all set under a shaded canopy hung with piñatas.

Auxiliary President Meg Di Napoli thanked event chairman Joanie Kelly, assistant Sara Beeby and their committee: Dodie Mannon, Elaine Stepanek, Carol Wenzlau, Mary Romo, Jane Catlett, Bridget Colleary, Sally Barden, Gwen Burgee, Sydney Tredick, Lanel Kelly, Sue Bradbury, Elaine Heavner and Caryl Crahan.

The always-charming honorary chairman Elizabeth Skene told how her late husband Robert (once considered the best polo player in the world) founded this event. “I can’t fill his shoes but I can support!” announced Michael Lazarovits, Braille Institute regional director, who invited everyone to “come on down” and visit the new facility on De la Vina. For the live auction Brian and Judy Robertson of Robertson International Travel donated a seven-day cruise on the Columbia River aboard a sternwheeler worth $8,200. Gloria Holden remarked, “It’s worth every penny.” She and husband, Glen (former Ambassador to Jamaica and Polo club trustee), had taken the trip. Jay and Cindy Jaeger didn’t “miss the boat.” They were the highest bidder.

After a Southwest style lunch that included my favorite Spanish dessert flan, it was time to watch polo, the game that fascinated rulers of Asia for 20 centuries. Thanks go to Wesley Ru for the trophies for the Braille match.

Proceeds raised will go to free programs at the Braille Institute, like classes in cooking, computers, living skills and how to use a white cane. The Braille Press and Library Services produce materials vital to those unable to read print. More than 5,000 people in the tri-county area benefit from these materials and programs.

Fiesta Garden Party

The Montecito Hope Ranch Republican Women’s Club Fiesta Garden Party looked like a movie set as we drove into Casa del Sueno’s long drive with stately palms on either side and then strolled onto the lush lawn set with colorful tables, piñatas and Mexican paper flowers.

Architect Reginald Johnson, who designed the Biltmore Hotel and the Chase Estate in Hope Ranch, also did this house for the Rivas from Chicago in 1913. Later, Amy Dupont bought these five acres and is responsible for all the trees. One of the most famous owners was singer Burl Ives, who lived there until he died in 1995. Today’s keepers of the historic home are party hosts Rose Marie and James Towle. Coincidentally, Rose Marie’s sister Angie Redding and husband, Steve, own the Chase Estate.

There were lots of fiesta costumes in spite of the heat and plenty of margaritas to cool you down. The long buffet table was laden with a huge variety of homemade tapas. Some political speeches were made but the highlight of the afternoon was performances by the Spirit of Fiesta, Asia McLaughlin (18 years old and former Junior Spirit), and this year’s Junior Spirit Olivia Villalovos, who is 9. They ended their program dancing Sevillanas together; it brought back memories of when my family and I lived in Spain and danced them at the ferias (fiestas) along with all the Spanish in their casetas (little houses, or tents, where tapas and dry fino sherry were served).

El Presidente Roger Perry and wife, Gina, were there in their red and black. Five of about 60 Fiesta Flower Girls – Hannah and Emma Harrah, Taryn Zaragoza, Jade Perkins and Elissa Mayfield – had a ball helping out with raffle tickets and drawing the winning numbers. Event co-chairs Patricia Dixon and Toffee Leftwich had lots of help from Dixon’s mom, Nan Burns, Debbie Oquist, Jennie Petlow, Marge Wardlaw and chief bartender, Sam Leftwich. Ginger Burkholder is president of the group.

Among the guests, Barbara Burgess had the best story to tell. “I was one of the passengers on Crown Princess that almost tipped over recently,” she recounted. “I was sitting on a chair on the fifteenth deck when the ship listed to the side, the lap pool emptied out and I was suddenly floating in my chair!” Amazingly, no one was thrown overboard.

Monies raised from the garden party go for three scholarships – to a Westmont, UCSB and high school student.

The End All Be All

What better venue for a party than Santa Barbara’s Courthouse and Sunken Garden, especially a Fiesta Finale? This event is given by the Profant Foundation to fund scholarships for all ages in the arts.

Stewart Abercrombie (1912-2005) was honored for his legacy of community support. His widow, Katherine, was honorary chair and remembered the many parades he had ridden, in addition to the Rancheros Visitadores treks. Funny memories had Stewart once climbing aboard his horse and falling off on the other side. The words “Love much and laugh often” fit into this context.

The Profant connection to Fiesta, and to the courthouse, began in 1950 when a young woman and her sister were in the Courthouse tower and heard the docent describe the romantic time of Fiesta during the first full moon of August. They went to El Paseo and a tall handsome man asked the young woman to dance. He had trained with Jose Monero and she as a ballerina. A beautiful pair, they soon married and raised four daughters, Michele, Marie, Musette and Magnonne. They had a float in every Children’s Parade reminding them of when they met. They were Lyn and John Profant.

In honor of John, his family created the foundation bearing his name and has given seven Fiesta Finales to build funds for deserving artists. This night the Spanish guitars played amid the scent of gardenias as we all had cocktails on the balcony and perused dozens of silent auction items.

We sat at tables in the sunken garden enjoying an alfresco buffet dinner and a professional show. Among the many entertainers was Pablo Pizano, who began dancing at age four and in 2005 was the only American accepted at the Mario Maya Flamenco Center of the Performing Arts in Granada, Spain. (Did you know Granada means “pomegranate” in English?) Another dancer was Pamela Lourant, from the local Linda Vega Dance studio, who also started at age four. She turned pro in 2001 and traveled to “my” part of Spain, Jerez de la Frontera, to study with several Spanish masters of flamenco. State Street Ballet also performed excerpts from Carmen.

Master of Ceremonies was Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and Erin Graffy narrated the story behind the Brozik Folkloric Masks that will be used in future Fiesta dances.

Event co-chairs were Carol Marsch and Nina Terzian, with dozens of people helping. Joyce Shaar, designer Luis Estevez and I had fun choosing the best costumes with Most Authentic going to Karen Woosley, whose dress had been worn in ferias in Spain. Most Classic were Patricia and Carl Perry and Most Beautiful was Ludmilla Samson. Others adding to the atmosphere were Betty and Stan Hatch, Rosemary Ashby, Raye Haskell and Dr. Herb Barthels.

Adios fiesteros! See you at the 2007 Fiesta Finale.

(Ms Millner is the author of “The Magic Make Over, Tricks for Looking, Thinner, Younger, and More Confident – Instantly!” If you have an event that belongs in this column, you are invited to call Lynda at 969-6164)