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Gala fills the night with dazzle, news and a flying surprise

November 7, 2011

Chapman University’s American Celebration Gala always delivers exactly what its name implies – a glittering, grand fête and plenty to celebrate. But Saturday night’s event delivered double doses of good news for the university and a music-to-the-ears compliment for the talented students who perform the gala’s signature Broadway-style revue.

The annual fund raising gala raised $2.12 million in one night for student scholarships and was the setting for the announcement that  a $2 million gift from Chapman University Trustee Wylie Aitken and his wife Bette put the university several steps closer to achieving its dream of building a 1,068-seat Center for the Arts.

The gift was announced to a sold-out audience gathered in Memorial Hall for the Broadway-style show staged by more than 100 singing and dancing Chapman students. The Aitkens served as co-chairs of this year’s fundraiser.

“It comes at a wonderful time, as we celebrate the university’s 150th birthday as well as the 30th anniversary of American Celebration, which Bette and Wylie have guided to perfection this year, as they do with all of their passionate causes,” said President James L. Doti.

And a gift of another kind was lavished on the dancing and singing students who dazzled the audience with an energetic and beautifully-performed show.

“I was floored by the performance this evening. These young people are fantastic,” said American Celebration’s special honoree Mike Stoller, who, with his late partner Jerry Lieber composed legendary American classics from Hound Dog to On Broadway, and was the recipient of the university’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Stoller predicted bright futures for the student performers saying “they would be right at home on Broadway, I’m sure of that. And many of these people will someday grace those stages.”

Also honored during the event were longtime university friends and supporters Dick and Patty Schmid and the late Don Schmid and his widow Marty Schmid, who were selected 2011 Chapman Corporate Citizens of the Year. 

Speaking on the family’s behalf, Dick Schmid said the tradition of supporting Chapman University began with their parents and is one the family has been proud to continue.

“We feel fortunate to be a small part of this university’s success,” he said.

The Schmid family’s extraordinary support for the university has included, over the years, the Waltmar Theatre, the Walter Schmid Center for International Business, the James J. Farley Professorship in Economics and the Schmid College of Science and Technology. Schmid Gate, which forms the main entrance to the campus, is named in honor of the family.

Other highlights included the traditional appearance of President Doti in the performance, first in a tongue-in-cheek tango number from The Pajama Game and later as the lone cowboy in a chorus line number from Will Rogers Follies that ended with him in full flight over the stage, thanks to some tricky theatrical rigging.

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