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'Success is just never giving up'

Posted: September 25, 2008 7:29 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Liz Seipel, left, accepts the award for the Betty Ferguson Foundation's 2008 Woman of Honor from Elizabeth Hopp, last year's recipient.

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It was a sea of glittery gowns and tuxedoes Saturday night when the Betty Ferguson Foundation hosted its eighth Woman of Honor Dinner and Auction at the Hyatt Valencia.

Everything was coming up roses as attendees entered the ballroom decorated from top to bottom with perfect red American Beauty, Mr. Lincoln and Iceberg blooms.

The 2008 honoree was Liz Seipel, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Child & Family Center.

While the event acknowledged Seipel's 32 years of service to the Center, the Betty Ferguson Foundation also celebrated its tenth anniversary of serving women and girls in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The Child & Family Center provides mental health services to families in the SCV.

Each year the Woman of Honor exemplifies a woman who has a history of philanthropy and service to the community; one who celebrates women who have overcome challenges and is an example of the personal and professional success that embodies the philosophy and major directive of the Betty Ferguson Foundation. The Foundation's mission statement is: "To train, develop and empower women and youth to be a vital force in society."

Past Woman of Honor recipients include Cheri Fleming, Roberta Veloz, Dianne White Crawford, Debbie Reynolds, Ruta Lee, Linda Hafizi and Elizabeth Hopp.

Event chairwomen Jane Bettencourt-Soto and Julie Sturgeon, welcomed the guests as they took their seats. Marlee Lauffer, the 2003 recipient, kicked off the evening's ceremonies and presentations as the mistress of ceremonies.

"With the state of the economy these days, I'll emcee for food," Lauffer quipped. "Besides, I'm a better emcee than (Mayor) Bob Kellar because I can also see and hear."

Then she introduced Liz's husband, Jim Seipel, who gave the invocation.

"We work to help those in the community to have richer and better lives," he said. "Caring about and caring for women, children and fathers, to see a need and do what is necessary to help."

Betty Ferguson Foundation co-founders Judy Cox and Marjanne Priest then took over the lectern.

"Liz Seipel has been dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and their families and the Betty Ferguson Foundation is very pleased to recognize and honor all of her accomplishments," Priest said. "The Woman of Honor Dinner is the culmination of the tireless efforts of our volunteers and the generosity of many Santa Clarita businesses."

Judy Cox also passionately addressed the audience. "We are all here for a reason, we came tonight because the community and the world needs what we have to offer."

To usher in the dinner and live auction, Stew and The Crew played some lively big band dance tunes.

The sit-down dinner began with a blue-cheese wedge salad followed by a perfectly grilled New York steak. Guests then enjoyed coffee and a decadent chocolate and hazelnut mousse cake served on a raspberry coulis.

Margo Miller, of Margo's Fashion and Bob Hudson, chief financial officer of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital said they are overwhelming supporters of anything that empowers women.

"Get them when they are young," Miller said. "They are the future."

During her presentation, Priest acknowledged the many volunteers who helped organize the event and the live and silent auction under the guidance of volunteer director Kathleen Fletcher.

Some of the volunteers were Doreen Hawbecker, Lori Fink, Nanette Ferrara, Barbara Scheidt, Curt Waite and Steven and Janet McIntire on credit cards and production assistant Larry Link.

Live Auction
Standouts items among the many fine dining, wine, golf and beauty packages offered up for the live auction was a signed Eddie Murray baseball with four field level Dodger tickets. One lucky couple won a two-night stay with dinner and golf at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch Carmel.

Hudson purchased the adrenalin package for two; a one-hour flight on a Cirrus SR 22 technologically-advanced, single-engine four seater; a speed race boat up to 150 mph in Parker, Ariz., during time trials (donated by Bob Teague) and a drive in a race car at Danny McKeevers Fast Lane.

Miller said she doesn't have a clue who her husband intends to join him in these adventures but said it wouldn't be her.

Wayne Crawford made the high bid for the L.A. Racing package donated by the Law Offices of Robert Drescher.

Crawford said his son Kyle would most likely take the 20 laps challenge at full speed. Other items up for bid included a spa package from Infinity MedSpad; a one-year tuition package from Santa Clarita School of Performing Arts; four VIP tickets to "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and Dr. Alan Barabakow donated a full orthodontics package for one lucky bidder. Later, the auctioneers also easily obtained several thousand dollars for the "fund a need" scholarships and families in need. In spite of the economy, Jane Bettencourt-Soto, executive director of the Foundation, said the event took in more money than the $90,000 the Foundation made in 2007.

Silent auction
For the silent auction, the community donated more than 100 items or services from restaurants, salons, travel agencies, artists, jewelers, business owners and virtually every arts organization in the SCV. Unusual among the items were three street signs donated by the City of Santa Clarita. Warner Bros. film editor Joel Cox (Judy's husband) started the bidding for Sierra Highway, San Fernando Road and McBean Parkway. Yet in spite of his hovering he only ended up with the giant San Fernando Road sign which he intends to place in a light box in the garage of his Mystic Hill Winery outside of Paso Robles.

Guest of Honor
"My mother's purpose was to protect little children. With her vision and determination, she never let anyone get in her way. She begged, borrowed and cajoled her way in getting what she needed to be able to help one child at a time," said Joy Seipel, Liz Seipel's daughter.

A psychologist with the Saugus school district, Joy said it was her mother's inspiration, spirit of giving and enduring faith that inspired her five children to pursue service careers, among them an MFT, a paramedic and a school guidance counselor.

But after all was said and done, it was time to let Liz Seipel tell her story. Humble in spite of her monumental accomplishments, Liz Seipel received a standing ovation as one who is not used to receiving accolades.

Last year's honoree Elizabeth Hopp handed over the Woman of Honor trophy cup to Seipel.

"This is beautiful," Seipel said as she held the cup aloft, newly engraved with her name. "It's also very heavy."

While she officially retired as CEO on June 30, Seipel said she was thrilled to hand responsibility over to Darrell Paulk as the new CEO.

"This is a great culmination of 32 years, I have to thank my staff, the board and my family," she said. Seipel said her five children and about 20 family members had traveled in from Tennessee and Minnesota for the weekend to attend the event - the first time her entire family had been in one place at one time.

The Child & Family Center was founded at a local preschool in 1976 and has grown into a major nonprofit organization with a $12 million annual budget. Originally called St. Stephen's Special School, it was created when Katie Clark, Carol Gelsinger and Seipel, teachers at St. Stephen's Nursery School, recognized a need to assist children with emotional, learning and behavioral problems by helping their parents learn better ways to parent them.

Today the Child & Family Center is a nationally recognized leader in mental health services for children and their families, serving more than 600 clients each week with a professional staff of 150.

"What can I say; when you are young you have a dream or idea of what your life is going to be, but through the years, life happens to you," Seipel said. "Honest to God, there is nothing really special about me," Seipel said, fighting back tears. "The only thing I came up with is I didn't quit, even though at times I was frustrated, got my feelings hurt or got into trouble. My mission is in my heart and I believe in it.

" I know the value of the people who need our services. Success is just never giving up, to continue on with the journey. I never, ever thought our dream and mission would grow except for the fact that the entire community was behind it and I thank you."

To another standing ovation, Jim and Liz Seipel took the dance floor to celebrate their family, children, grandchildren and bring her incredible journey to a close.

For more information, contact the Betty Ferguson Foundation at (661) 702-8712.

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