Keeping a Promise: 50 Years and Counting 10

Hoag Hospital Foundation Celebrates its 50th Annual “Christmas Carol Ball”

Fifty years seems like a long time. Looking back at highlights from 1966 brings perspective. It was the year that cigarette manufacturers were required to print the warning, “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health,” on every pack. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” rose to #1 on Billboard charts; the first operational weather satellite was launched; 215,000 U.S. soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. The Beatles played their last British concert; Medicare went into effect; LSD was declared illegal in California. NBC became the first station to televise its entire lineup in color; Adam Sandler, Janet Jackson and Cindy Crawford were born. Montgomery Clift, Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney passed.

Here in Newport in 1966, history was also in the making. It was the year that forward-thinking community leaders John Vibert, Marshall Duffield (father of current Newport Beach City Councilman by the same name) and Vin Jorgensen, along with 13 other founding members, created the 552 Club in support of their local hospital, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. Their goal was to collect $100 in annual dues from each member to meet Hoag’s then-lofty objective of expanding to 552 beds.

Though the group’s formation got off to a tepid start, it quickly gained momentum when film legend John Wayne (who played football with Duffield at USC) showed his financial support by writing a sizeable check for $2,500 and joined the 552 Club. At the same time, the well-connected Duffield convinced the organizers of the Santa Monica-based “Voices of Christmas Ball”–songwriter Sonny Burke and band leader Les Brown (Les Brown and his Band of Renown)–to bring their act south for an encore performance to benefit Hoag. Several of Hoag’s celebrity supporters joined in the fun, and that year’s show featured Harry Babbitt singing merry tunes and Buddy Epsen showing off his gift for tap-dancing. Andy Devine read, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and John Wayne recited a poem in his famous sincere burr. It had glamour and glitz and set the stage for the future. They brought the house down and, although they didn’t know it at the time, gave birth to a transformational tradition.

Those early festive holiday gatherings profoundly and permanently raised the profile of Hoag Hospital to the level it needed in order to achieve its ambitious expansion. During those important early years of the 552 Club, the ball featured dozens of committed A-list Hollywood talent who would gather each year at the Balboa Bay Club to sing Christmas carols and read poetry. Eventually, the “Voices of Christmas Ball” would evolve into today’s modern-day “Christmas Carol Ball,” and the tradition has become an institution–literally and figuratively.

Fast forward to 2016 and planning for the 50th Anniversary “Christmas Carol Ball,” which is being co-chaired by long-time Hoag supporters Karen Linden and Cindy Stokke. Support and celebration will come together in formal black-tie on December 10th at the Monarch Beach Resort. Rumor has it that a few nostalgic surprises are scheduled to take place throughout the evening.

A little background on this year’s chairs is in order. First, we have Linden, who is the chair of the Hoag Hospital Board of Directors and a member of the Hoag Hospital Foundation Board. A passionate advocate for our community, Karen has been a member of the Hoag Board of Directors since 2011, and her service as made a significant impact on healthcare in Orange County. In addition, Karen currently serves on the Hoag Promise Campaign Leadership Council, the Hoag Family Cancer Institute Campaign Committee, and she is a past Chair of Circle 1000 Founders’ Brunch, serving currently on its Founder’s Committee. As a retired registered nurse, Karen’s commitment to active roles in philanthropy, education and healthcare continues with her hard work and dedication to this year’s ball.

Stokke currently serves as chair of the Hoag Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, having served on and founded several Foundation committees, and is a member of the Hoag Hospital Board of Directors. Cindy has been active in philanthropy, serving on a variety of elected and appointed non-profit Boards, including Harbor Day School Board, OC Marathon Board, Commissioner of the Orange County Juvenile Justice Commission, served as assistant executive director of the Orange County Bar Foundation and is involved in National Charity League.

The dynamic Linden/Stokke duo has set a new bar, committing to exceeding last year’s record-breaking attendance and fundraising numbers set by chairs Azam and Fariborz Maseeh, who raised an astonishing $1.5 million. (On a personal note, my husband and I were guests of the Maseeh’s for the Ball, and to say it was the most elegant, creative, inspiring experience of the many events we attended all year is an understatement.) The Maseeh’s genuine commitment was evident in every lovely detail, and it was clear that they embodied the rich history and commitment that came before them, as bright as it started 50 years ago.  This year’s event, thanks to the standard set to date, will surely be the most anticipated in Orange County.

Because of its status as a beloved community tradition, the “Christmas Carol Ball” attracts Orange County’s most influential leaders year after year. The funds raised at the ball support the foundation’s Hoag Promise Campaign, an ambitious pledge to raise $627 million by 2020.  The 10-year comprehensive campaign seeks to significantly expand Orange County residents’ access to quality healthcare options and underscore Hoag’s unique role in providing innovative and compassionate healthcare to Orange County residents.

The Promise Campaign is the largest campaign to date of its kind in Hoag’s history and will enable the organization to remain at the forefront of innovative community-based healthcare. The goal is to drive Hoag’s continued clinical leadership, innovative spirit and transformative potential.

“The campaign represents much more than meeting the financial goal,” says Hoag Hospital’s President/CEO Robert Braithwaite. “It will assure Hoag’s ability to deliver the next generation of care while maintaining and enhancing the Hoag experience for every patient and family.”

In today’s complicated world of healthcare, Hoag is being called to do more, innovate more and deliver more value with less traditional resources. New demands require a new approach. The campaign, known as Hoag Promise, Our Campaign to Lead, Innovate & Transform is something different than has been seen before.

Today, Hoag has become one of the nation’s finest healthcare systems and serves a diverse and growing population, but there is more work to be done to take the institution into the future.

Fifty years after the pioneering Club 552 founders began their mission, more than 300 community leaders are volunteering with the Hoag Hospital Foundation team in efforts to reach out to the community on behalf of the Hoag Promise Campaign. Thanks to their efforts, Hoag continues to build on its legacy, keeping a promise 50 years later, and setting the stage for the next 50 to come.