A Legacy of Giving
San Diego’s grandest ball of all reaches 110 years
Posted on December 20, 2018
In the history of our city, few events enjoy such longevity as the Charity Ball. What’s come to be known as the “Grande Dame” of San Diego philanthropic events is in fact also San Diego’s oldest, and it has been an integral part of fundraising for children’s health causes since its creation in 1909.
In that inaugural year, the Charity Ball was chaired by Lena Sefton Wakefield, a vibrant personality and powerhouse of San Diego society for more than 40 years, and the event benefited the infirmary at the San Diego Children’s Home — of which Lena’s mother, Harriet Lyle Sefton, had been the original benefactor. First held at the Hotel Robinson and then moved to the U.S. Grant Hotel the following two years, the Charity Ball found its permanent home at the Hotel del Coronado in 1912. After a decade-long hiatus during the Great Depression and World War II, this mainstay of the San Diego charitable scene returned in 1946. Then, in 1953, the Charity Ball’s proceeds benefited the children’s hospital that would eventually become Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego by providing seed money for its founding the following year. The hospital has been the event’s sole beneficiary for the past 65 years.
Over the years, net proceeds have increased significantly, raising millions of dollars for facilities, programs, and services ranging from its neonatal intensive care unit, emergency care center, and trauma center to pediatric cancer research, cardiovascular intensive care unit, neuro-oncology program, and more. However, even through the decades, the event has held strong to its distinctive feature: “box” seats around the ballroom that can be purchased at various price levels according to their location, and box holders have first right to their spot in subsequent years. As a cornerstone event on the San Diego society scene, many attendees have been known to hold boxes for decades.
The tradition of this esteemed event will continue on its 110th anniversary when the ball, themed “Glitter in the Air,” takes place on February 9, 2019. Chaired by Gwynn Thomas and co-chaired by Ellen Moxham, PhD, it will honor the event’s previous chairs who have carried the affair and made it an institution. The black tie evening will include dinner in the Del’s historic Crown Room, followed by dancing in the Grand Ballroom. Proceeds will benefit the Copley Psychiatric Emergency Department and affiliated programs launching in 2019 at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. The facility will support life-saving tools for children who suffer from behavioral and mental health emergencies. radyfoundation.org/charityball Deanna Murphy