PERFORMING ARTS CENTER HONORS
Woman of Distinction
STORY BY SALLY GILHOOLEY • COVER PHOTO BY MIRANDA GATEWOOD
The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s (WHBPAC) Advisory Council has chosen Yvonne Elliman, founding Vice-Chair of the 10 year old Council, as the recipient of its inaugural “Woman of Distinction Award” to be given at the Council’s 10th Anniversary celebration luncheon at Doubles, Sherry Netherland Hotel, Manhattan, Wednesday, May 9 at 12 noon. The Award will be presented annually, when warranted, to an extraordinary woman who has been a powerful advocate for WHBPAC, a year-round, community-based not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization founded in 1997.
Elliman, who admits to “bursting into tears” upon learning of the Award says, “I could never have received this honor without the help of the fabulous women in our Advisory Council. They are a super, wonderful group of women, not only brilliant but go-getters.”
Just four months after arriving at WHBPAC, Clare Bisceglia, Executive Director, conceived of the Advisory Council to introduce, publicize and broaden interest about happenings at the then five-year-old Center. The Council’s influential “Informed Ambassadors” represent a cross-section of community leaders from Manhattan to Southampton who have raised over $1 million towards realizing the Center’s goals. Each woman of this dedicated group of business owners, attorneys, artists, politicians and other supporters shares her talent and expertise. Acknowledging the Council’s key role in the success of WHBPAC, Bisceglia says, “They (Council members) are treasured friends; an endless resource… and cherished members of the theatre family. And, Yvonne (Elliman) was a major architect in putting this stellar group of women together.”
As a young girl, Elliman was educated, as was her mother, at the Punahou School in Hawaii, the same prestigious island academy attended by President Obama. She later attended Northfield Academy in Massachusetts and Edgewood Park Junior College, Briarcliff Manor, New York.
“After college,” said Elliman, “I went to Hawaii to see my grandmother and lived there in 1948 and ’49. I love Hawaii; it is my second home and I go back all the time. I still have friends there.”
She became a sought-after international fashion model and actress in the U.S. and Europe beginning in the early 50s. While on the Italian Riviera, she was spotted by fashion designer Emilio Pucci and became his first model. She also became Miss Capri of 1952. Elliman made movies at Rome’s Cinecitta (Cinema City), creator of classic epics including Ben Hur and Cleopatra.
Multilingual and a true cosmopolitan, Elliman said, “While I modeled for Pucci initially, I went on to model for many Italian and French designers and also in New York. I lived in Switzerland and Brazil through the 60s and traveled the world. In the 70s the most exciting travel was with my mother as we followed Halley’s Comet across the Indian Ocean.”
For the past 37 years, she has been a volunteer at the Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden, the Rusk Institute therapeutic greenhouse at New York University Hospital. Elliman has also been involved with the New York Hall of Science since the late 70s and is a member of the Science Council Executive Committee. In 1987 she was appointed president of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Big Apple Chapter and is a lifetime member of its Honolulu chapter which is dedicated to advancing science in America.
About her active fundraising for the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, she said, “When I was President of the Auxiliary at Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, I became interested in the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Annual Cabaret Convention when it was at City Center. And, of course, I have followed it to its present home in Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center.”
Her life-long love of theatre sparked her enthusiasm and support as a generous donor and patron of WHBPAC since the Center’s inception. “I got involved very early and the Advisory Council has given a great contribution to WHBPAC’s growth,” she added. “Looking ahead, some of the women have wonderful new ideas about ways to make money. Everybody is on board and that’s the great part of this group – everybody is friendly and helpful.”
Chairman of the Board, Thomas B. (Tom) Poole, in an interview with Networking® magazine said, “She (Elliman) is a dynamo and, as one of the founders of the Advisory Council, deserves much of the credit for the success of WHBPAC. She loves the theatre and believes it has made a difference for the Westhampton community. And that is what we are trying to do and what we are attaining, becoming the centerpiece for cultural learning and cultural productions for the East End.
“Our fan and patron base extends much further than we ever envisioned and, for all of that, the Council has been the heartbeat of the theatre for the past 10 years,” he said adding, “It was an ingenious idea that Clare had and it was helpful for her to be around women of stature who have accomplished much in a man’s world. They are idea people and bring those ideas to fruition. WHBPAC is indebted to them. They deliver patrons, theatre-goers and financial support which is invaluable. But, I think their input goes far beyond fundraising. They are a sounding board for Clare and every executive needs that. She has confidence in their thinking. They are there as keys. And, lest we forget, our volunteers are there also and they make the engine go.
“In the fundraising business if you put together a good idea it grows,” said Poole. As an example, he cited the success of the Annual House & Garden Tour, the Council’s inaugural event begun nine years ago and chaired by the Advisory Council Vice-Chair Mary Jane Poole, who is also Tom’s wife. He explained, “She dreamt of the Tour and, because it had substance and hard working volunteers, it has produced $35,000 each year.”
Triple Anniversary Celebrates Growth
Poole noted that at present the theatre is “pristine” adding, “we have to keep that. What better time to raise the money to keep it that way than in recognition of Clare’s 10 year anniversary, the 10 year existence of the Advisory Council and, next year, WHBPAC’s 15th anniversary? It’s going to be a total effort of the Board, the Council and our volunteers. Right now, our volunteers are on a raffle campaign with the hope of raising $100,000. What better time to ask patrons for support than when you have three celebrations?
“My goal is to make WHBPAC more economically sound. And, the only way to do that is to keep the theatre up. It is impressive to enter that theatre and I think it transformed Westhampton as culture can transform an area. The Advisory Council has played a key role in doing that and these women deserve all the accolades anyone can give them,” he said.
WHBPAC’s current Advisory Council Chair, Mary Skillern, said, “Yvonne has always been a member of our executive committee and was part of the original council when it was formulated by Clare. She’s innovative, full of energy and never says no – no job is too big or too little for her. Yvonne and her husband, Don Elliman, were advocates for saving the theatre when it was just a movie house and were part of the concept and process of making it into something of value to the community. Today, it has grown beyond anyone’s expectations.”
Skillern noted, “Clare (Bisceglia) is admired and revered throughout the community and beyond. When she came to WHBPAC, she immediately studied the strengths and weaknesses of the Center and saw that it needed a working arm for the Board, concluding that those of us who were so enthused about it should form an advisory council. We were perfect for that job. Clare and I work together with the Board as a team and, even though we have separate projects, we form a cohesive group and support each other’s efforts. Now, WHBPAC, like all real estate, needs upkeep and renovations after 15 years of use and our Advisory Council will play a role in raising the monies needed towards that upgrade.”
She said, “We (the Council) are the doers who get out, contact people and come up with creative ideas that get new audiences to come to the theatre. And no one has more passion than Yvonne about our theatre. In fact, she supports all the arts currently contributing financially to six Off-Broadway theatres. She takes the leadership role by nature and is able and willing to accept other people’s ideas. She shares the wealth she creates.”
To date, the Council has raised over $1 million through the hosting of memorable fundraisers including the Annual House & Garden Tour, their inaugural event now in its 9th year. This year’s Tour will be Friday, July 20 beginning at 11 am. The price is $100 with luncheon and $75 for the Tour only.
Two years ago, Mary Skillern conceived the Council’s Be Our Guest fundraiser, which, in its short life, has grossed nearly $100,000. It is a special occasion in which guests are invited to dine in beautiful Hampton homes for an evening that begins with an elegant cocktail party this year hosted by Kristin and John Miller at their 6-acre water front estate in Quogue. The Be Our Guest party will take place Friday, August 17 at 6 pm. The cost is $250 for cocktails and dinner and $150 for cocktails only. Visit www.WHBPAC.org or call 631-288-1500 for tickets to the House & Garden Tour and Be Our Guest.
Envisioning the future of the Council, Elliman says, “I think that the Advisory Council is tremendous and we are going to get larger and larger, not in numbers but in our contacts and projects. And, I plan to be on board until they kick me out!”
After residing in Remsenburg for 34 years, Yvonne and her husband, Donald Elliman, now live in Westhampton and Yvonne still spends part of her time in her beloved New York City.