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Camp Shannon Soiree

| Monday, June 23, 2008

"Who brought the songbook?," joked a "camper" on one of the looping buses that shuttled us from Shady Side Academy to "Camp Shannon" in the staggeringly beautiful hilltop haven of hosts Sherri and Gary Wilson in Fox Chapel. And the wow factor kicked in.

Nearly four acres of exquisitely landscaped gardens are planted with roses, heliotrope and Asian lilies, and dotted with garden fairies and whimsical birdhouses. Adirondack chairs, swings and well-chosen benches are places for family and friends to gather. A waterfall splashing into a large koi pond marks the spectacular entrance to Shannon's garden, where all the flowerbeds are in her favorite colors of pink, purple and white.

Remember those larky summers of yore• So did the folks at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania when they planned Saturday's wondrously creative Secret Garden Party with a summer camp theme -- for kids at heart. Sophisticated ones, my little songbird. It was the first day of summer, and, at 400 campers, it was the largest crowd in the al fresco fete's 17-year history ... which speaks volumes about the Wilsons' popularity in the community, the tweethearts.

Beyond their California contemporary abode unfurled an immaculate sweep of lawn that was centered with a colossal white tent and surrounded by cocktail tables for sipping Bug Juice and S'more-tinis with a toasted marshmallow swizzle stick (can you stand it?). The terrific vibe of Kelsey Friday and her band floated along with the lovelies in tropical prints and flirty sundresses.

Just like camp, there were long rows of tables for dining. Log centerpieces sprouting plants and twinkly votives topped red bandana cloths along with, get this, "Hi from Camp" letters that had us laughing out loud. John Barsotti's Common Plea put an uncommonly delicious spin on the camp fare of meat loaf over smashed potatoes and chili with all the sides that were served in tin cups. Hot dogs, too, but in puff pastry.

As always, Jim Roddey 's hilarious and generous turn as auctioneer was a standout. The silent and live auctions support Shannon's Camp Fund , established in memory of Shannon Wilson. The fund underwrites scholarships for children who could not otherwise attend ASWP's wonderfully educational Outdoor Discovery Camps. The party also was a springboard for Sunday's tour of five seldom-seen gardens in Fox Chapel to benefit ASWP's wildlife havens at Beechwood Farms and Todd Nature Reserves.

Just like camp, the rains came. But that didn't dampen the spirits of ASWP prexy Tingle Barnes and director Jim Bonner with Leslie ; event chair Patty Casey with Sean; Fritz and Jim Mitnick; Nancy and Steve Cohen; Linda and Stuart Miller ; party chair Lucila Andrich; Ruth Anne and Ralph Papa ; auction chair Emily Fawcett ; "camp counselors" Jamie Patrick and Alexa Recchi with Craig and Mark; Gretchen and Jim Glockley; Betsy and Bob Kampmeinert; Gerry and Dr. Reg Wilson; Cindy and Tom Lisowski; Lois and Judge Ron Folino; Kevin Langholz; Beth and Don Smith; Stacy and Keefe Ellis; Brenda and Patti Coleman ; and Amy with Ira Morgan .

Plus, Nancy and Dan Fales; Luci and Dave Massaro; Susan Bartlett and mom Carol Campbell; Victoria and Dr. Thierry Verstraeten; Nancy and Nadav Baum; Carolyn and Rick Abraham; Tracy and Evan Segal; Abbie and Scott Pauley; Cheryl and Dan Bagley; Cindy and Bob Feldman; Cynthia and Bill Cooley; Marcy and Dave Gookin; Carin and Kevin Nord; Pam and Terry Wirginis ; and lucky Maggie Horgan who won the stunning amethyst necklace.

Pastapalooza

Mamma mia! Such a tough job, but someone has to do it. Fanfare stepped up to the plate for A Taste of Pittsburgh's Pasta , the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 's ciao-down at the U.S. Steel Plaza that raised $20,000 (on a $9 ticket!) to close in on a cure for cancer.

Just a taste• Not likely, with 9 ristorantes competing for the gold medal while dishing basta pasta for 1,000 paesani . The judges who shared Thursday's fork-twirling tasks were Ann Haigh , Pennsylvania Culinary Institute's Scott Fetty , and (harrumph) Trib food writer Karin Welzel . Leading the pesto posse for the best overall dish was Bravo Cucina Italiana for its delizioso Pasta Bravo. While Spaghetti Warehouse's 15-layer lasagna was voted numero uno by the lunch bunch.

Basking in the sunshine and humming along to Jimmy Sapienza were such as L&LS chapter prez Bill Gorman (a 28-year lymphoma survivor!); Janet Kelly; Rose Vitanza ; U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan; Jeanne Caliguiri; Chris Phillips; Rachele Ward; Jason Walsh; Nancy Weisenbacher; Veronica Polito; Melisa Mertz; Diane Durkin; Matthew Borgia; Heidi Wesolowski; Rick Walters ; and event director Maureen Durkin , who chose the perfect-weather date from the Farmer's Almanac.

Parade of Champions

Friday's autograph line extended as far as the eye could see as fans queued up to meet our town's sports greats at Federated Investors' Parade of Champions in the Heinz History Center. Billed as the ultimate fan festival, over 10,000 visitors were expected over the weekend at this showcase of star athletes who made Pittsburgh the City of Champions.

Glistening under spotlights were trophies representing five Steelers Super Bowls, two Pirates World Series, Tony Dorsett's Heisman, Pitt's 1976 National Championship, and four from Penguins' legendary Mario Lemieux. Fans smiled and laughed as they posed for photos in front of the championship hardware.

The Pittsburgh 250 event to benefit the HHC, as well as the charities of the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers, starred over 50 athletes and sports personalities like Steve Blass; Al Oliver; Bob Robertson; Dave Giusti; Andy Russell; Bill Hillgrove; Marv Kellum; Jim Rooker; Heath Miller; Art Rooney Jr.; Robin Cole; Charlie Batch; Randy Grossman; Larry Brown; Craig Wolfley ; and Johnny Majors .

We also spotted Andrew Berenato; Sandy Levis with sons John and Archie; Tim Lane ; and Chuck Bogorae , who waited an hour to be first in line for autographs.

-- JoAnne Harrop

Black Diamond Ball

African drums thundered through the Pittsburgh Athletic Association on Friday to usher in the dynamic Black Diamond Ball . The inaugural gala benefited Afrika Yetu , a cultural hub that helps new African arrivals to Pittsburgh rebuild their lives away from home. In the spirit of the gala, many guests among the black-ties wore colorful dashiki and boubou robes.

Before the elegant dine, there was a musical tribute to the late great Dwight White, the eve's co-chair with wife Karen Farmer White , who attended with their daughter Stacey . Also honored with the Nelson Mandela Award for promoting African culture in our community were Esther Bush, Oliver Byrd , the Rev. Carmen D'Amico, Janet Sarbaugh, Jeanne Pearlman, Yvonne Cook , the Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett, Susan Rauscher, Bishop Joseph Garlington , Dr. Damien Pwono , Dr. Schuyler Foerster, Sala Udin , the Rev. Harold Lewis and Monsignor William Kerr .

Keynoters were Dr. Faida Mitifu , ambassador of the Republic of Congo, and Pakamisa Sifuba , deputy political minister of the South African embassy.

In the crowd were Adeline Kombo and Elie Kihonia; Yinka Aganga-Williams; George Miles; Ken Service; Shakir Mohammed; Claudette Lewis; Godfrey Biravanga; Jean-Pierre Nsanzabera ; and Abdunuru Kajura .

-- JoAnne Harrop

A Special Tribute

Five stellars were recognized for extraordinary service in the fight against liver disease at Friday's Tribute to Excellence luncheon in the Duquesne Club. The Western Pa. chapter of the American Liver Foundation honored UPMC's Dr. Kapil Chopra ; volunteer Carol Foglia ; nurse Martha Loeffert ; and chapter founders Joanne Grieme and Naomi Herman, whose daughter, Lydia Blank , attended in mom's absence.

In addition to supporting chapter programs and raising funds for the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Research Award, ALF will be involved in next month's U.S. Transplant Games in our fair city.

Among the guests were chapter director Suzanna Masartis and chair Mary Rodgers Schubert ; Dr. Bridget Chufo; Christopher Kaiser ; Dr. David Geller; Hope Vaccaro; Kathy Downey; Kim Sperring; Terry Gerigk Wolf; Tracie Sabatine; Joseph Coniker; Kelly Cato ; Dr. Michael Babich ; Dr. Ngoc Thai ; and Cathy Freehling .

-- JoAnne Harrop

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