Baton Rouge is known for its hospitality, and it was on full display last week as O’Brien House hosted a very special guest, the daughter of former President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford. Susan Ford Bales was in town for two days to help raise funds for O’Brien House, which treats those suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse.

Ford dinner

A White House state dinner would have had a hard time competing with the elegant dinner at the home of John Turner and Jerry Fischer the evening of Sept. 24. Ashley Thom with Blue Avenue Events created two of the most elegant dinner tables I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting at, and chef John Folse pulled out all the stops with his six-course dinner.

A congenial group of 50 guests di ned with Bales — a special VIP group at the inside dining table with the guest of honor, including Mayor Kip Holden, Dee Dee Riley, Jennifer Eplett Riley, Paula and Jack de la Bretonne, Whitney Vann and Robert Schneckenburger, Lori Bertman, Fred Dent, Janet Olsen, Annette and John Camp, dinner chairwoman Bobbie Carey and O’Brien House Executive Director Todd Hamilton. Dining al fresco with me were Barbara Anne Eaton, who was in charge of Bales’ entire visit, Mary Frey Eaton, Elizabeth Eaton Stagner, Sue Turner, George Bayhi, Kathy Screen, Ruthie Ann Bullock, Phyllis McLaurin, Amy Nesbit, Fran and LeRoy Harvey, Debra and Vance Gibbs and Thom.

Before dinner John and Jerry, two of my favorite guys, took the VIP group on a private tour of the home. Having heard stories of their many travels, it was a treat to see the amazing collectibles brought back and on display. The mayor also made Bales honorary mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish and gave her the keys to the city.

“You warm our hearts with your beauty,” Kip said to Bales. “Your presence is a gift we can never repay.”

O’Brien House Breakfast

That gift was speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Hilton Capitol House for O’Brien House’s breakfast the following morning about her family’s very personal and public journey as her mother battled alcoholism and addiction to pain pills.

“Alcoholism is a disease that permeated every segment of society,” said Bales. “But nowhere is the damage greater than the family. Addiction is a family disease and our story is similar to the ones of other families.

“What I saw my mom going through was crushing. I was scared and I didn’t know what was happening or what to do. I felt alone,” she continued, still emotional at the memory

But the family intervention and her mother’s recovery ended up a gift not just for the Ford family, but to the world in the form of the Betty Ford Center. Bales ended by proclaiming proudly, “I will always be Betty Ford’s daughter.”

Annette Camp was this year’s honorary chairwoman; Keetsie Gunnels was breakfast chairwoman.

Celebrate Recovery

I continued celebrating our community’s help for those battling alcoholism and drug abuse at the Cenikor Foundation’s Celebrate Recovery Luncheon at Boudreaux’s. Here guests heard from program graduate Mary Messina, who instead of sharing how she ended up at Cenikor, told of how she worked the program to graduate and take control of her life again.

Bill Bailey, CEO of the Cenikor Foundation, shared how the center is growing. In June 2013, the local Cenikor received 1,000 calls. This past June it received 3,500.

“The majority of patients we’re seeing now are addicted to pain medications,” he said. “We weren’t seeing this 10 years ago … . Treatment is cheap (as compared to incarceration) and we’ve got to stop treating those who are addicted as lesser than.”

Cenikor also handed out several awards. WinRoc-Specialty Products & Insulation was recognized as the Business Partner of the Year, Laura and Lee Domingue as Community Leaders of the Year, ExxonMobil as Philanthropist of the Year and state Sen. Dan Claitor as Elected Official of the Year.

‘Le Masquerade’

My Thursday party hopping continued that evening with Forum 35’s Viva il Vino live and silent auction dinner at the Capitol Park Museum. Honored at the event were Ed Pramuk, Art Melt Louisiana Art Legend; Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, Baton Rouge Original; and Louisiana Technology Park, Corporate Member of the Year.

Host committee members included Jessie and Stephen Babcock, Jessica Boone, Susan and Charlie D’Agostino, Heather Sewell Day, Fred Dent, Rachel and Michael DiResto, Kendra and Jeff English, Fairleigh and John Jackson, Tammy and Raymond Jetson, Stafford Kendall, Jim and Mike McKay, Karen and Bill Profita, Dennise Reno and Demond Matsuo, Sarah and Tate Tullier, Erin and Mitch Wesley and Kati and Luke Williamson.

Megan Johnson chaired this year’s event.

Living United

I made a quick stop at the home of Robert and Whitney, where the Chase Bank city president was hosting a cocktail party for Capital Area United Way. I was greeted by Kevin Kimball, whose staff at The Little Village was catering the affair, and the host, but the first guests I spy are none other than John Turner and Jerry Fischer. Naturally we had to rehash the lovely dinner at their home the night before.

I also got to visit with Hank Saurage, Mary Nell and Jake Netterville, and CAUW President Darrin Goss Sr. and his lovely wife, Vee.

Blue Ribbon Soirée

Hank followed me to the Blue Ribbon Soirée benefitting prostate cancer research at Tulane University’s Cancer Center. The Renaissance Hotel ballroom was buzzing by the time we got there for the fourth annual event. Serving as honorary co-chairmen were LSU coaches Paul Mainieri, Johnny Jones and D-D Breaux.

Not only did I get to visit with them and Paul’s lovely wife Karen, but I also caught up with Pam Chenevert and Barry Whitehead, Ann and Rob Guercio, Terri and Conway LeBlanc, Lisa and Richard Busc eme, Debbie and Ricky Heroman and Gracie and Bill Rigell. Bill was in town from Jakarta, where he works for Freeport McMoRan; Gracie was channeling her inner Jackie O in an exquisite light blue dress she had made while visiting her husband.

This event is held in memory of the late Larry Ferachi and Joel Nasca by their family and friends. Co-chairmen were Julie Ferachi, Kathy and Ricky Lato, Frances and Gary McConnell and Janey Nasca.

To view photos, please click here.

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