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Cruising with the Soroptimists

Posted: March 11, 2008 2:04 a.m.
Updated: May 12, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Tora Brown, Dora Zavala and Darlene Gandara were the co-chairs of the Soroptimist's fundraiser on Saturday night.

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You all know him as Captain Merrill Stubing from the "Love Boat" television show, which aired from 1977 to 1986. And though you'd say "Oh yeah" and "That's right" when someone lists all the other TV shows and movies he's famous for (remember Murray on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?), the "Love Boat" will forever be Gavin MacLeod's biggest claim to fame. And these days he doesn't mind a bit. In fact, that role launched a side career for him as the "ambassador" for Princess Cruises.

As you might imagine, MacLeod is often asked to be part of cruise-themed social events, but, until last Saturday night, he had never done so.

"I've probably been invited to 100 cruise events, and I've never gone before," he said.

But this event was special, and when his agent, Annie Schwartz, called and asked him to be the master of ceremonies at the Soroptimist International of Santa Clarita Valley's 33rd annual fundraiser, held at the Hyatt Valencia, he couldn't say no.

"It's women helping women and young girls," he said. "They're making a difference and I want to help them if I can."

As was pointed out several times during the evening, "soroptimist" is a Latin phrase that means "best for women," and Soroptimist International, consisting of more than 100,000 women in 120 countries, provides assistance to organizations throughout the world that assist women and girls. Just a few of those that the Santa Clarita Valley group assists include the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, SCV Domestic Violence Center, SCV Senior Center, Samuel Dixon Family Health Center, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Foundation and the College of the Canyons Foundation.

There were other reasons for MacLeod to emcee the event as well. Princess Cruises was the title sponsor, which was appropriately themed "Cruising the World with Soroptimist."

And MacLeod and his wife , Patti, are founding members of the SCV Theatre Project, which provided the evening's excellent entertainment. Additionally, two of MacLeod's three grown children live in the SCV. All three of them were part of his delightful entourage for the evening, which included Schwartz and his manager Susan Munao.

Cruising Along
Dora Zavala is the SCV Soroptimist vice-president and was the evening's auction chair.

"It's great to give Santa Clarita a different flavor of the same event," she said, in regard to the all-out effort to make the cruise theme a success.

Zavala was also one of three co-chairs for the overall event. Tora Brown and Darlene Gandara were the other two - and this triumvirate had created a very special evening, indeed.

Before the doors to the main ballroom were opened, guests had their pictures taken by Arnie Kazdoy of on the west side of the lobby. Those who purchased special gift bags were also able to pose for Gary Choppe of Choppe Advertising Group on the east side.

While waiting for the main event, guests enjoyed each other's company and made their bids on the top-shelf silent auction items. The co-chairs had added a fun twist to this. The various sections of the auction were divided into travel-themed "islands." These included the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Argentina and Ports of Call.

Brown explained that, as each guest visited an "island," they would have their "passport" stamped and earn an appropriate drink. The Caribbean was a Cuba libre, Mexico a margarita, and Hawaii a pina colada. At Argentina and Ports of Call TGIC poured fine wines.

Just after 7 p.m. the guests were "piped aboard" and entered the grand ballroom for the real action. As you might expect, the room was done up in a nautical flavor that included a gigantic life preserver with "S.S. Soroptimist" on it.

With introductions and thanks to the sponsors offered by Soroptimist president Gail Rocco-Mack, and a welcome Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess Cruises, the action got started. Zavala called two lucky raffle numbers and the winners won seats at the Captain's Table with MacLeod and the folks from Valencia Acura.

Then MacLeod took the podium and entertained everyone with humorous anecdotes from his long and amazing career, including the story of purchasing his first hairpiece - at age 20. He could have gone on forever, and the audience would have loved it, but other events needed to unfold - including a video on who the Soroptimists are, introductions of their award winners and, of course, the delicious dinner, which included a crab cake appetizer.

From here on the members of the SCV Theatre project and live auctioneer Robert Flores alternately took things in hand. A sample of Flores' work: A week in Big Bear went for $1,400. A cruise for 12 aboard Mike Lebecki's yacht (with appetizers provided by Salt Creek Grill and wine provided by Loose Goose) went for $1,700. Four fabulous furs by Edwards Lowell of Beverly Hills went for $1,700 each. And the head table at next year's Soroptimist auction went for $2,250.

The presentations by the SCV Theatre Project enthralled the audience. Director Kay Cole's cast, including Julia Gregory, Victoria Oscar, James Meehan, Susan Wood and Christopher Youngsman, provided touching, humorous and inspiring songs from "The World Goes 'Round," such as "Mr. Cellophane" and "The Grass is Always Greener."

All too soon the evening was nearing its conclusion. Cheri Fleming thanked everyone for for their generous donations, and the Theatre Project cast finished with "New York, New York."

(A total for the funds raised was unavailable at press time.)

For more information on Soroptimist International of Santa Clarita Valley visit


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