The Mad Hatters

What is the one day of the year when it is de rigueur to wear hats? We know it’s not Easter so it must be Transition House Auxiliary’s decade-long Mad Hatter Luncheon. Instead of a tea party, however, there’s wine and hats galore from wacky to wonderful. This year’s benefit theme was “A Bit of Broadway,” with Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort filling in as the “Great White Way.”

I always like to come early and watch the hats, with ladies underneath, arrive. It’s like my favorite Dr. Seuss story, “500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” Each one gets bigger and better and there’s a photo op every minute. Hat contest Judges were John Robinson from Santa Barbara Symphony, Jason Wilson with Mid-State Bank and Gregg Novak from The Timbers Dinner Theater. Winner of Most Beautiful Hat was Britt Beauvoix with two runner-ups, Soosan Marshall and Beverly Zaleski. Beverly told me, “I have a whole collection of hats. This one I paid $10 for in a retro shop. It has a Saks label inside.” It was shaped like a swim cap covered in blue flowers. Most Original was Lila Trachtenberg’s hat from Thailand, and most comical was Kathy Gruver in a cat outfit.

President and event Co-chair Diane White (along with Co-chair Jan Cibull) let the audience know, “This forty-member Auxiliary has lots of fun raising funds.” When Transition House needed just $12,000 more to get a matching grant of $250,000 from Sara Miller McCune, the Auxiliary was able to give it. Those funds helped build the $2,700,000 Transition House.

Receiving a special recognition from the Auxiliary surprised Executive Director Kathleen Baushke. She responded, “I hope to one day be out of a job because we have succeeded.” She meant helping all the families in need of Transition House’s three-stage hand up. They are taught job skills and interview skills, until finally being able to have their own place, sometimes subsidized by Transition House.

Local celebrity Pat Starr was introduced decked out in a tiara instead of a hat. In 2006 at 69 years of age, she had been crowned Ms Senior California and went on to become second runner-up in the Ms Senior America contest. She informed us, “It’s run just like the Miss America contest but without the bathing suit segment.” She played Chopin and a boogie-woogie number on the piano that she did in the national talent contest. This alpha lady also broke records by riding her bike across the United States at 67.

Then it was Showtime! Emcee Andy LoRusso (The Singing Chef) and Erin Graffy gave us a “Bit of Broadway” with hits from “West Side Story” and “Phantom of the Opera,” accompanied on piano by talented Richard Weiss. Erin also “decomposed” a song, making a parody, “You’re just not dressed without a hat.” And the Razzle Dazzle Dancers (average age 64) dazzled us with the finale, “New York, New York.”

To learn more about Transition House call 966- 9668 for information.

Angels On Leashes

Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort went to the dogs when the Santa Barbara Tri-County Friends of Guide Dogs for the Blind held its sold-out Wine Sight event. It was all about canines and wine, a celebration of the working Guide Dogs and puppies-in-training in the Tri-County area with proceeds going toward their veterinary care. The silent auction had about 20 local wineries participating. Ashley Parker Snider and Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard was the principal wine sponsor and several wineries were pouring samples during the meet and greet.

Wine Sight Chair Karen Ingalls had everything organized. The first event was the special delivery of 8-week old Guide Dog puppies to their raisers. One of the puppies, named Garfield, was all tired out from the party and his “parents,” Brian and Alice Garcia wheeled him around in a doggie stroller while he snored. Other working dogs were there with their blind owners. And there were many puppies-in-training of various ages who came with their temporary families. They’ll be with them until about 18 months, when they go to campuses in San Rafael, California or Boring, Oregon for higher education and six months of formal training. Then there’s 28 days with their new partner and graduation.

When I asked Alice, “Isn’t it hard to give them up?” she replied, “It’s like sending your child to college. You can see they are ready to do more.” She and her husband have raised five dogs. If a dog can’t handle the intensity of being a seeing eye there are career changes such as a medical alert, a canine buddy for a blind child, or search and rescue. Platinum Sponsor Charlie Alva donated a program page that read, “In memory of my loving wife, Vera Rolston Alva, and the seven German Shepherd Dogs that were a part of our family.”

The services are “lifelong” for both the people and the dogs and it is all free. There is no government funding and Guide Dogs depends entirely on private donations. When dogs are retired from their work, the owners can keep them or a home will be found for them. On average the 2,100 alumni across North America will enjoy the service and companionship of about five dogs during their lifetime.

Among the table sponsors were Norah Hamilton Straus and husband, King. When my dog Mandy made “best friends” with their dog Kokomo at the beach, I had no idea Norah had been involved with Guide Dogs for 50 years beginning in Washington D. C. at Walter Reed Hospital where they helped blind veterans of World War II. She founded the local chapter and served as Chairman of the Board for 17 years.

As they said in the program, “It takes more than a village to raise a Guide Dog. For 65 years, Guide Dogs for the Blind and their world-class trainers have made it possible for the blind to “see” again.” Don’t forget what dog spelled backwards is! Call (800) 295-4050 or go to to discover ways you can participate.