The setting looked like a scene from a John Wayne movie, and the Duke would have loved it. A western ranch nestled in the Malibu hills was the gathering place for a lot of good folks who care about others. Some were wearing cowboy hats, and others were enjoying saloon games. Later all enjoyed a BBQ dinner and dancing to the great boot-scootin’ country music from the Morgan Leigh Band. Thus, this year’s John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary’s 33rd annual Odyssey Ball was a rip-roaring success on June 9 at the Calamigos Ranch in Malibu.
The rustic outdoor venue was perfect for the “Angels and Cowboys” themed gala emceed by sassy Kate Flannery, known for her role on the acclaimed NBC workplace sitcom The Office. She brought humor and heart to the event, and when it was announced how much was being raised for cancer research (about a half a million dollars), Kate quipped, “Oh, that’s usually my bar bill.”
Flannery thanked everyone for coming “with a big heart and a smile” to the awards presentation which honored former professional athlete turned entrepreneur, self-help guru, and New York Times bestselling author, Lewis Howes. He received the prestigious Generation of Hope Humanitarian Award from Anita Swift, John Wayne’s granddaughter and the current president of the Auxiliary. Howes told Swift, “I have a couple of things in common with your grandfather. We’re both six-foot-four, and we both played football.”
Howes also impressed with his skills as a motivational speaker when he talked about inspiring people in all walks of life to rise above obstacles and strive for greatness. That’s what Lewis does on his uber-popular podcast “The School of Greatness.” Having conquered his own challenges, Howes has gone on to become an entrepreneur and philanthropist. He also noted that while he is able to encourage his listeners to transcend the emotional and figurative “cancers” in their life and mind, “The groundbreaking work of the doctors and researchers at the John Wayne Cancer Institute gives hope to those suffering with a real cancer diagnosis,” he said.
The Trailblazer Award was given to honor the John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary’s past presidents who are the philanthropic women who have led the charge in raising more than $20 million for cancer research, care and education programs. As the band played “Wind Beneath My Wings,” the ladies honored for their impressive accomplishments were Hollace Brown, Diane Feldman, Ilene Eisenberg, Andrea Kopald, Ila Krane, Ina Lewis, Shirley Lipstone, Sue Newman Hochberg, Roberta Novick, Donna Rosen, Lois Rosen, Ruth Weil and Anita Swift.
Also honored in memoriam were Jackie Banchik and Sandy Cohen. Swift announced the end of her tenure as president, to be succeeded by current Auxiliary chair Martha Harper, who along with Shirley Lipstone, organized the wonderful “Angels and Cowboys” event.
Dr. Anton Bilchik said everyone with the John Wayne Cancer Institute is part of an extended family. He explained, “This comes from the vision and leadership of the Wayne family represented tonight by sons Ethan Wayne and Michael Wayne, and the grandkids and great-grandkids who are here. Three decades ago all this started as a tribute to their patriarch. He would be proud to see the joy and caring that has been done at the Institute on his behalf.”
The amazing Ruth Weil, an Auxiliary past president, was on hand and Dr. Bilchik noted that “she spends so much time in our clinic, she has her own white lab coat and has been named an honorary fellow.” Others in attendance included Celeste Thorson (How I Met Your Mother), Camila Banus (Days of Our Lives), Hayley Gripp (Killer Kids), Adrian Dev (Westworld).
The 33rd Annual Odyssey Ball benefiting the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center was produced by Scott Mauro Entertainment for the fifth consecutive year, and one of the great John Wayne quotes was on display, “All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be someplace else.”
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years and was proud to be half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.