A Legacy of Service: Third-generation member chairs Las Patronas’ 71st Jewel Ball

For the first time in its 71-year history, Las Patronas, the La Jolla-based women’s philanthropy group, has a third-generation member in Jewel Ball chair Jorie Fischer. Her grandmother, Midge Preston, was a Las Patronas founding member and chair of the 1958 Jewel Ball. Her mother, Sarah Burton Hawkins, became a member in 1999.

Las Patronas’ signature event, the annual Jewel Ball, sports the 2017 theme “Taking Flight” (a playful salute to the Golden Age of Air Travel). The fundraiser begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. Tickets are available at laspatronas.org

This year the organization boasts five active “legacy members” (those whose mother was also in Las Patronas), and eight total who’ve had a mother, mother-in-law or aunt in the organization. These multi-generational members are continuing a heartfelt tradition of service.

“As long as I’ve been a member, there have been legacy members,” said current president Leigh Plesniak (who is not a legacy member). “They know what to expect, they come in with history and understanding. You get a sense of history when you talk to them. We want to honor our past and continue the mission set forth by our predecessors, and when we have people who saw their moms planning and then attending the Jewel Ball, we get to see our history come to life over and over again.” She added, “I think having legacy members and multiple generations speaks highly of the organization.”

Las Patronas, sometimes referred to as LP, was formed in 1946 by Kathryne Hosmer and 13 other women (including Jorie’s grandmother) to host an event to raise money for the United States Service to China organization in the aftermath of World War II. To date, the organization has raised millions of dollars for hundreds of local beneficiaries.

Fischer posed, “Wouldn’t our founding members be tickled to learn how far our reach has gone and how far we’ve come? When I was asked to become a member, it was such an honor and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity because it means so much to carry on what those women started.”

But as far as Las Patronas has evolved, several things have not changed — the beneficiaries are still vetted and everything for the Jewel Ball is made by hand by members, and there is an extensive emotional support system within the group.

Path to philanthropy

Second-generation member Hawkins, who “caught the bug” from watching her mother participate in Las Patronas, said she always wanted to be of service to her community, and she volunteered for everything from classroom parent and team mom to helping her mother with Las Patronas’ activities as a child.

“I remember little things like selling donation tickets to summer visitors in August. I was itty-bitty and my mom would send me up and down the beach to sell tickets. So when I was little, I saw how I could help. As I got older, there was always a feeling that there was something more I could do and I wanted to find what that was,” she said. The decision to join Las Patronas didn’t come until after Hawkins graduated from college, but the quickness to raise her hand made an impact on her daughter.

Third-generation member Fischer said she considered joining when her children were young, but was only convinced when she saw that the other women in the group were also juggling work, children, social life and Las Patronas.

That spirit of community and sisterhood, and the bonding experience that comes from being in the women’s group, brought Judy Hall (mother to legacy member Nicole Hall) to Las Patronas in 1975.

“It’s a privilege to be a member and be of service to something greater than yourself. The people who push together for something so great are bonded together forever, and I can confidently say these women are lifelong friends,” she said. When it came to building the decorations and setting up the Jewel Ball, she added that it was difficult to be away from her children, but they understood that she was working on something big.

“That’s the profile of an LP member, you have to be ‘that’ person,” she laughed, “because after all that work, when the Ball is over, they get right back to work stripping the whole thing and tearing it down. They work all night. You have to be willing to be a workhorse.”

Her daughter, Nicole, noted, “Having a parent involved in philanthropy makes you think you can do it, too. So while in sixth grade, I wasn’t thinking ‘when I grow up I’m going to be in LP,’ you see opportunities for yourself.” Nicole jokes that she brings work clothes to the Jewel Ball so when the event is over, she can change from her ballgown into yoga pants and a T-shirt and work all night to break down the event.

Jewel Ball memories

When asked if each legacy member had memories of their mother and the Jewel Ball, Fischer and Nicole Hall excitedly said “yes,” and Hawkins, added, “me too,” to laughs.

“The glamour!” Hawkins exclaimed. “The little white mink stoles ... the jewels and the big ball gowns ... it was spectacular! As a little girl, I thought my mom was a fairy princess. And then I realized how much work was involved the day of the Ball to yield such a great result, and couldn’t imagine how these women looked so relaxed after they’d been working all the day.”

Fischer said to her mother, “I felt the same way watching you get ready and the committee ladies coming over to get ready. Joining Las Patronas, I have a new-found respect for how much poise these women have the night of the Ball. … When you think about the day-in-and-day-out work in the days leading up to the ball and then showing up glamorous after you’ve painted the last flat and placed the last flower — to be that composed is impressive.”

Nicole added that she remembered the smell of her mother’s Jewel Ball perfume and the shade of her lipstick. “She was gone a lot, but I knew it was because she was doing something important,” she said. “It looked like a lot of work … and from the outsider’s perspective, I can see how people would look at LP as being a group of ladies who sit around and have a dilettante life and throw a big party. I can see how that is the perception, but in truth, these are women who work hard and then have a good time.”

The next generation

Both Fischer and Nicole have daughters, and note that they encourage them to be of service, but recognize LP membership might be years away. Plus, the girls would need to live in La Jolla to qualify, and would need to be invited by a current member.

“My daughter, Annabelle, is 12, and she understands what our efforts go toward. We talk about the Monarch School (a previous beneficiary) … she embraces that and knows the hard work that goes into raising money for those beneficiaries,” Nicole said. “She knows this is something her grandmother did and her mom does. She gets the message that she can do this, too ... that’s what we’re raising our kids with.”

Added Fischer, “My daughter, Paige, is 5, so Las Patronas is a big concept for her to embrace, but I think the underlying tone driven home in the family I grew up in, is that you don’t get involved because you have to, you get involved because you want to. That’s something that is nurtured through generations of Las Patronas members and one of my many goals as a parent — to get them involved because they want to be.”

Fun fact: By the time Paige is of age to be a member, it will be near the centennial year for Las Patronas.

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