Rancho Santa Fe residents to chair gala for Ronald McDonald House


By Kathy Day

If you ever wondered why people volunteer to head up committees for charity events, you can pretty much figure the answer comes from the heart.

And when it comes to children, the heartstrings likely tug a bit harder, which is why Rancho Santa Fe resident Fernanda Whitworth stepped up when she was asked to chair the annual ROMP gala for Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. It’s also the reason the Ranch’s Susan and Bill Hoehn are honorary chairs of the Oct. 13 event that will raise money to support the house that provides a place to stay for families with seriously ill children being treated at San Diego hospitals.

With its fairytale theme of “Once Upon A Time,” the event at the newly renovated Rancho Valencia Resort will feature a special performance by a legendary R&B vocal group. Details are still being finalized so their name couldn’t be revealed yet, Whitworth said.

The emotional draw of the evening will be a video of a family who stayed at the Ronald McDonald House and remarks by retired Philadelphia Eagles player Fred Hill, who helped establish the first house in Philadelphia after his 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. She died last year at 44 from brain cancer.

As a special treat, the cocktail hour will feature a kids’ band with children coming on stage at the end to thank the donors, Whitworth said.

Partygoers and others who want to spend $100 for a raffle ticket even if they can’t make the event will have a chance to win a 2013 Mercedes-Benz C250 — or $30,000 in cash — donated by the Hoehns, the owners of Hoehn Motors for 37 years.

Whitworth said when Mary Drake, chair of the 2011 committee on which she had served, asked her to take over she initially hesitated because she had told herself she would spend five years focused primarily on her own two children before she took on any major projects.

But a week later she had to take her daughter to Rady Children’s Hospital. While they were waiting they were sitting on a bench with a likeness of Ronald McDonald that captivated her daughter.

When Whitworth’s own mother was dying of cancer, she said, she always went home after her visits. But sitting there she began thinking about parents whose children are in the hospital.

“They have to go home and be impervious,” she said. “I related to those things. To me, losing parents is hard, but losing a child is harder.”

That day at Children’s she made the decision to take on the task of planning the gala and went right to work, rounding up committee members. That part was fairly easy since 80 percent of those who pitched in last year, including Drake, came back. What has been hard, Whitworth said, is coordinating the schedules of her 26 co-workers.

“Everybody believes it is a good cause,” she added, “so they are all working hard to make the event a success.”

This year the goal is to raise $350,000. Tickets are $500 and proceeds will also come from silent and live auctions and the raffle of the Mercedes-Benz.

Susan Hoehn, who with her husband is donating the car, said, “We are a family business so we try to seek out philanthropies that are family oriented. (The ROMP gala) is a perfect fit.”

Like Whitworth, she said she could not imagine how terrible it would be to have a child facing a life-threatening illness. For families to have a place where they can rest or get a meal while their child is being treated is what drew the couple to support the gala – one of many causes around San Diego with which they are involved.

“If you have ever been in the hospital, you know how exhausting it can be,” she said, noting that they have not had any experiences with children facing serious health issues.

Their son Ted, daughter Adrian Sherman and her husband Josh are also supporters of Ronald McDonald House, Hoehn noted.

Whitworth’s and the Hoehns’ efforts drew praise from Chuck Day, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego.

“All proceeds from this year’s “ROMP: Once Upon a Time” gala will support our work to provide lodging, food and support for families with a child in medical crisis,” he said in an e-mail. “Our incredible event chair, Fernanda Whitworth, and honorary chairs, Susan and Bill Hoehn, are working tirelessly with our ROMP Committee to make this spectacular event possible.”

With the donation of the car, sales of tickets and auction items, Whitworth said she is optimistic that they can reach their fundraising goal. But for those who can’t come to the gala or buy a raffle ticket, she said every penny counts. “We can touch people’s hearts.”

According to Ronald McDonald House San Diego’s website it costs about $148 a night to give a family a bedroom where the parents, the sick child and sometimes their siblings can stay. The House also runs a Family Care Center that’s open during the day to any family with a child being treated locally even if they are not staying overnight.

ROMP ‘Once Upon A Time’

• Fundraising gala for Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego

• 6-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13

• Rancho Valencia Resort

• Tickets $500. Call (858) 598-2445 or go to https://

• Learn more about Ronald McDonald House San Diego at