Heading West: Barnard in L.A.

A special evening raises money for scholarships

By Mervyn Kaufman

Los Angeles-area alumnae, parents, and friends of the College turned out for Barnard’s first-ever fund-raiser on the West Coast. Barnard’s development staff, working with an enthusiastic Los Angeles-based committee, organized the event to take place in February as part of the College’s 125th-anniversary celebration. “We are always looking for ways to broaden our reach, both to engage alumnae who live outside New York and to raise much-needed scholarship funding from a wide pool of donors,” says Bret Silver, Barnard’s vice president of development and alumnae relations. 

“This was the first time we’d gone outside New York City to hold an event like this,” explains Beth Mauro, executive director, individual giving. “The idea grew out of conversations held with alumnae, parents, and friends in the Los Angeles area. All were excited about the idea of hosting a fund-raiser modeled on Barnard’s very successful New York City Annual Gala.” Louise Hood, development’s associate vice president and chief of staff, added, “We have a huge contingent of friends in California, so trying something like this in L.A. was the obvious next choice.”

The area alone is home to some 2,500 Barnard alumnae. Why not reach out? “Some of us were a little skeptical,” recalls Frankie Sholem, who, with husband Barry, agreed to cochair the proposed gala. (Daughter Jordan is Class of 2015.) “Because the event would take place on a weeknight, we had a lot of unknowns to deal with.”

Frankie Sholem remembers a comedian joking: “In L.A., if you try to keep people past 10 p.m., you’ve lost your audience.” The evening had to be tightly structured and timed to the minute. There were some other concerns—not only about how long people would stay, but how many would actually attend. Sholem recalls few early responses to mailings. “Ticket requests didn’t really start rolling in until about two weeks before the event, and we were very surprised,” he says. “The number of attendees we’d hoped for was 100, but we far exceeded that number.” The final count: 200.

Planning began in earnest in April 2014, when a conference-call schedule was shared with members of the newly formed L.A. Gala committee: Jane Jelenko ’70, Jennie Ostendorf ’13, Serena Levy ’91 and her husband, Shawn Levy; plus Mitra Ardehali P ’18, Sheryl Layne P ’13, Karen Sandler P ’17, and Dan and Hilary Estey-McLoughlin P ’17. The committee chose Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel, located a block from the beach, as the location. The program included an exhibit of student and alumnae art curated by Lara Saget ’12 and Jordan Sholem ’15. Wine selected by Christina Turley ’06 from her family’s Turley Wine Cellars accompanied the dinner. Broadway actor, television personality, and standup comedian Bob Saget, the father of Lara Saget, was the host for the evening, with producer, director, and actor Shawn Levy serving as the scholarship auctioneer. Levy also agreed to repeat the role at the New York City annual gala.

Gala attendees also saw two videos. One celebrated Barnard’s 125th anniversary, while the other addressed the need for scholarships directly, highlighting the personal stories of recipients who could not have attended Barnard without financial aid. The College, with its need-blind admission policy, offered more than $38 million in student aid during the 2014–2015 academic year, and half of all students received some form of financial support, much of it raised from alumnae and community outreach. 

Per Mauro, “At these Barnard events, we only auction scholarships.” Auctioneer Levy started at the top—“Who will make a $10,000 donation?”—and worked his way down. The surprise of the evening was a $50,000 bid, which brought the auction proceeds up to $176,000, nearly half the evening’s combined gross of $332,800, well above expectations for this first-time event.

President Debora Spar thanked gala attendees for their “dedication and generosity,” and saluted them “on behalf of the remarkable young women of Barnard.” She also noted, “With the funds raised here, you help us affirm our commitment to educating extraordinary students, regardless of financial need.” 

Ostendorf and her alumnae committee staged the after-party at top nightlife attraction The Bungalow, a stand-alone setting on the hotel grounds. “I didn’t count,” says Hood, “but I would guess that about three-quarters of our guests came to The Bungalow. It was packed!” She adds, “People were saying, ‘We hope this becomes an annual event,’ and as long as there’s interest, I don’t see why not.” Adds Silver, “We are really pleased that our inaugural West Coast gala was so warmly received by our friends and family in California.”