Celebrity Authors Luncheon

By Lynda Millner   |   April 4, 2019
CEO of CALM Alana Walczak and president of the auxiliary Connie Burns

In 1970, my friend Susan Gulbranson’s mom, Clair Miles, who was a nurse and doctor’s wife, learned of a young father under extreme stress who killed his eight-week-old son. She put a special telephone in her home and instructed her young children to never answer if it rang. Thus was born Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), a private non-profit agency which reached parents before they hurt their children.

Author Mindy Johnson at the cocktail party the night before the luncheon
CALM co-chairs Carolyn Gillio and Becky Cohn at the cocktail party

As time went on, an auxiliary of 50 women was formed to help raise funds for the many programs that CALM gives. Thirty-three years ago the fundraiser, Celebrity Authors Luncheon, was launched to great response. It was modeled after a similar event in Arizona witnessed by Sharon Bifano where the late Erma Bombeck chaired an authors luncheon to benefit the Kidney Foundation. The CALM ladies were looking for a fundraising idea and this was it. Sharon got her friend Stephanie Ortale to be her co-chair and a phenomenon was born. 

Susan Gulbransen told them about retired Columbia Pictures vice president Paul Lazarus and he became their first master of ceremonies. Stephanie and Sharon co-chaired the event here for 25 years. And so this year for the 33rd time over 400 ladies and gentlemen gathered at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort for one of my favorite days.

The night before the current co-chairs Becky Cohn and Carolyn Gillio and their hardworking committee: Jeanette Carpenter, Diane Dukes, Janice Ingram, Pam Van Blaricum, D’Arcy Cornwall, Terri Fawcett, Lynn Wells, Charmaine Roger, Mary Ann Froley, Sharon Hooper, Sissy Taran, Martha Rogers, Laura Barnes, Susan Chapman, Marcia Wolfe, Phyllis Cox, Georgia Jameson, Jane Metiu, DiAnne Voorhees, Vicki Ahlgren, and Sharon Hooper and spouses all went downtown to the Youth Interactive, Santa Barbara space for a well deserved cocktail party. Carolyn and Becky have held their job for eight years and will be stepping down this year.

Jo Haldeman with her book about the White House days

One of the highlights of the annual fête is hearing from the guest authors who won’t be interviewed during the luncheon but have brought their books to sign and sell. Many are local folk, some not: Sheila AronI’m Glad I’m me: Weaving The Thread of Love from Generation to Generation; JuliaBricklin – Polly Pry, The Woman Who Wrote the West; JaneSherronDeHart – Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life; JeffDubet – Creating Spanish Style Homes; JoGiese – Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother, Babe; ElizabethGould, M.S. – Your Best Health By Friday; RomyGreenwald (age14) – Micken the Chicken & the Wishing Puddle; RuthGrimes – Cat Speak; JoHaldeman – In The Shadow of the White House; CatharineRiggs – What She Gave Away.

The morning of the luncheon began with a large room full of books – a temporary treasure of a “book store” and their scribes, ready to show, tell, and autograph. What a great place to buy gifts with personal signatures! The three authors who were interviewed: Mindy Johnson, Kate Quinn, and Luis Alberto Urrea, were seated in the lobby for signings.

Our erstwhile master of ceremonies who has given of his time for eight years, Andrew Firestone, was with us once again. There’s no one better. The interviewers were award winning television writer and novelist Dianne Dixon and Emmy award winning producer/director Tom Weitzel.

The CALM CEO Alana Walczak spoke to the group telling us, “One out of three of us has suffered some kind of trauma while growing up.” She gave kudos to the luncheon founders Sharon Bifano and Stephanie Ortale. The Claire Miles Award was presented to Martha Rogers for outstanding service to CALM. Therapist Deborah Holmes spoke because she is retiring after 31 years. She told of new methods in treating abuse and how CALM is leading the way.

Cindy with her author husband Luis Alberto Urrea, one of the interviewees
Member of the CALM auxiliary Karen Merrill and author Kate Quinn, signing books before her interview

First interviewee Kate Quinn is The New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of historical fiction. She is a native of southern California and attended Boston University. Her books have all been translated into multiple languages. Her latest, The Huntress, was inspired by the true story of Nazis living in plain sight in post WWII America. How would you feel if someone you knew and loved turned out to be a cruel Nazi camp guard in their former life? Kate tells about the Nurenberg trials and how there wasn’t room to prosecute them all so many just went home. She also informs us about the Soviet Union’s little known all-female bomber regiment called the “Night Witches,” who served during World War II.

Mindy Johnson is an award-winning author historian, filmmaker, educator, musician and more. She is a leading expert on women’s roles in animation and film history. She frequently speaks on these topics. Her latest book is titled Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation. Mindy told of the nearly vanished world of ink pens, paintbrushes, pigments, and even tea. She said, “At Disney maids in uniform served the ladies tea at 10 am and 2 pm. They also were not allowed to wear pants to work in the ‘forties.” As a military wife I was not allowed to wear them as late as the early ‘60s. The military wanted us to make good impressions on our host country, Italy. As Mindy says, “There’s a little bit of magic in all of us, we just have to find it.”

Fourteen-year-old local author Romy Greenwald with her mom Anita Presser signing her children’s book

Luis Alberto Urrea is a prolific and award winning writer who uses his dual culture life experience to tell his stories. He grew up in San Diego so he has a Mexican and American heritage. He had a teaching fellowship to Harvard University and is the author of 16 books. The Devil’s Highway is his non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona Desert. It won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Nearly 100 different cities and colleges have chosen three of his books for community wide reading programs. His most recent novel is The House of Broken Angels and was named one of the best books of 2018 by the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR.org, PBS and more. His next book that he’s working on is based on his mom’s experiences serving in the Red Cross during WWII.

CALM’s Mission is to prevent, assess and treat child abuse in Santa Barbara County by providing comprehensive, culturally competent services for children, adults and families. 

In 2018-2019, 1,700 children and families were served in CALM offices. Those served in the County were 9,000. There are prevention programs for families and caregivers with children who are most at risk for abuse and neglect. They know that a child must tell his or her story so healing can begin. Your dollars can pay $50 for two group sessions for mother with postpartum depression all the way to $10,000 for therapy for an entire family for one year. To know more call 805.965.2376. All programs are offered in English and Spanish and no one is turned away for inability to pay.


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