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Hundreds 'Celebrate Manhattan Beach' With Rotary Club

Apr 24, 2023 08:39AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Guests hold up their bidding placards at the "Celebrate Manhattan Beach" event supporting the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club.

More than 220 supporters gathered on Friday night at the "Celebrate Manhattan Beach" event, the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club's largest fundraiser of the year.

Through a silent and live auction, and individual donations, the gala event held at the Westdrift Hotel raised "a couple hundred thousand" dollars for the charitable causes of the Rotary Club for the coming year, according to club president Gerry Morton.

(Guests check in for the "Celebrate Manhattan" Rotary event. Photo via Manhattan Beach Rotary.)

"Your presence and your generosity tonight is what funds our entire next year of service for Rotary," Morton told the crowd. "We make a huge difference in the community and in the lives of children and people throughout our area, internationally and locally. The impressive nature of the folks that are all Rotarians is something that inspires me on a daily basis."

The annual fundraiser supports the Rotary's local projects - including numerous projects with Manhattan Beach and neighboring schools - and far-reaching international humanitarian projects. Among its local efforts, the Rotary awards more than $60,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors at Mira Costa High School and students at El Camino College.

(Acrobats in the Westdrift lobby at the Rotary event. Photo via Manhattan Beach Rotary.)

The event, which began with acrobats, drinks and hors d'oeuvres - and ended with dinner and dancing - was chaired by former Rotary president Jordan Holbert.

Jim and Joanne Hunter Honored

Friday night's event also included a special recognition of longtime local philanthropists Jim and Joanne Hunter with the "Service Above Self" award for a lifetime of service toward the Rotary mission.

(The "Service Above Self" award is presented to the Hunters. Left to right: Michael Zislis, Joanne Hunter, Jim Hunter, and Gerry Morton.)

In introducing the Hunters, local restaurateur and hotelier Michael Zislis lauded them for their long list of charitable leadership in the community, in organizations such as Sandpipers, Junior League, National Charity League, Rotary, UCLA, and Providence Little Company of Mary.

(Philanthropy also runs in the family: The Hunters' son Kory is the namesake of the Uncle Kory Foundation for brain cancer research, founded by the Hunters' daughter Mandy Gregory and her husband Heath Gregory. The Uncle Kory Foundation is one of the driving forces and one of the three beneficiaries of the Tour de Pier in Manhattan Beach.)

"When [the Hunters] came on the board at Providence Little Company of Mary it was a little community hospital - now it's a powerhouse juggernaut," said Zislis. "They have affected more lives, saved more lives than anybody in this room - I'm proud to even know them."

Zislis added, "I would call them the 'Manhattan Beach charitable couple' But no... Maybe the 'South Bay charitable couple?' No... Let's call them the 'California charitable couple.' That's how big their impact is."

"This is the strongest Rotary club in the nation," said Joanne Hunter in accepting the award. "You're lucky to have so many young people joining and growing, and fabulous women and men."

Rotary Members Share Experiences

The evening also included videotaped testimonials from Rotary members.

"What I love most about Manhattan Beach Rotary is the fellowship and the fun we have together - all while helping our community both locally and internationally," said Rotary president-elect Lisa Hemmat-Lupercio. (Hemmat-Lupercio was introduced to Rotary in Washington state when she was just 11 years old, when her parents - both members - took her to an event.)

(Guests enjoying a live band and dancing at the event. Photo via Manhattan Beach Rotary.)

"I was looking for a way to give back to the community when I heard about Rotary," said longtime member Debbie Arnold. "It has really exceeded my expectations because we do all these things that I never knew know anybody did, so I'm thrilled that I'm in Rotary."

Among recent projects, Rotary member Charlie Steinmetz and the Steinmetz Foundation has donated full-color picture dictionaries to underprivileged kids - totaling more than 20,000 dictionaries in the past 20 years - with help from fellow Rotary members.

"This club gets involved in the community, gets its hands dirty, and helps kids - and that's what I really like," said Steinmetz.

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