[KHTS] – It was an evening of laughter, tears and fundraising in the Santa Clarita Valley as Marlee Lauffer, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land, was feted for her “Awesome Elegance” at the 29th annual Zonta Tribute Dinner hosted by the Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley.
The annual tribute dinner chose Lauffer to honor for her years of service to the SCV.
“The honor really goes to Zonta and the people who are here tonight because they are raising money for great programs,” said Lauffer. “But I’m thrilled to be part of it.”
Laura Peckham, president of the SCV Zonta Club, said Lauffer was deserving of the tribute because of her years devoted to charitable and business causes in the SCV.
“Marlee has given of herself to the sick, needy, elderly and lost as well as being a champion of arts and education and a leader of our business community,” said Peckham. “As a club we are proud to honor her tonight. I would like to introduce Miss Awesometown herself, Marlee Lauffer.”
Lauffer entered the ballroom to the classic showtune “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”
During the evening Lauffer was alternately gently roasted and celebrated. Each speaker was preceded by a classic musical theater standard including “Getting to Know You,” Cockeyed Optimist,” “9 to 5,” “Can’t Say No” and “Bosom Buddies.”
Curtis and Fleming
Dianne Curtis, past International President of Zonta International and Cheri Fleming, president of Soroptimist International of the Americas, spoke first about Lauffer’s extensive community service.
“We honor Marlee Lauffer, a woman who takes the time to make a difference in her community and the world,” said Curtis. “It is difficult to know how many lives you have truly touched, but I know you will continue to help future generations.”Dianne Curtis and Cheri Fleming at the Zonta Tribute of Marlee Lauffer. Photo by Michele E. Buttelman.
“Marlee’s story is truly incredible,” said Fleming. “Philanthropically Marlee has taken an active role in many, many nonprofits, added a dose of Marlee magic, and a created a greater good for our community.”
Fleming also had a little fun at Lauffer’s expense; “outing” her “unfortunate taste in country music” and making note of her usual red lipstick which Fleming said could be called “Marlee Red.”
Lauffer’s brother, Jim Means followed.
When the family moved to California from the East Coast Means said “Marlee immediately became involved in school politics, holding several offices in both junior high and high school.”
He shared his frustration as growing up as “overachieving Marlee’s younger brother.”
“We went to the same junior high and high school and had the same teachers. Marlee was named valedictorian in junior high school, a distinction that she received in high school as well,” Means said. “All through high school our family would travel around the state watching her compete in speech contests. She amassed a huge collection of awards, honors and trophies.”
He said he told teachers who had known his older sister to “lower their expectations” at having him in class.
After the humorous presentation, Means turned serious and told his older sister, “Marlee, this group thinks you’re pretty awesome, I could have told them that a long time ago.”
Greg McWilliams, president of Newhall Land, and Lauffer’s boss, stole the show with his amusing stories of working with Lauffer and her ever-present iPhone, which he claimed was actually a part of her hand.
McWilliams told a story about Lauffer and a trip to Orange County where McWilliams tried to speak to Lauffer about the presentation they were about to make, but couldn’t get Lauffer away from her phone. He eventually decided to text her.
“I said, ‘need to talk to you,’” McWilliams said. “Boom, I get this text back, ‘I’m on my way to Orange County I’ll call you when I get there.’”
The audience laughed loudly and applauded.
However, McWilliams wasn’t finished.
“When we got to Orange County and we were walking into the office building she turned to me and said, ‘Don’t I owe you a call?’” said McWilliams, as he provided the punch line to the story.
Longtime friend, Elizabeth Hopp, appeared on the podium wearing a giant pair of red lips, a nod to Lauffer’s ever-perfect application of red lipstick.
Hopp told the audience about her long friendship with Lauffer, which began in 1991.
She also spoke about Lauffer’s qualities of “kindness, compassion, humility, intelligence, humor and dedication.”
Between Hopp’s touching remarks she also included a few “digs” including:
“Marlee single handedly invented ‘Marlee Time,’ which is about 20 minutes past ‘Standard Time.’”
“She is so dedicated to standard time that I actually once saw her attending a mixer in Canyon Country.”
Hopp ended her speech with a list of Lauffer’s accomplishments, including “winning the Heisman Trophy.” Hopp admitted that last honor was false, but that all the other accolades were factual, including two tours as president of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce.
“This community has fallen in love with Marlee Lauffer,” said Hopp. “And the feeling is mutual. She has gone so far above and beyond what was required of her by Newhall Land. And she has never stopped caring about this town and the people in it. She has never stopped giving of her time or her personal resources. She is gracious, kind and, of course, elegant.”
Hafizi and Chegwin
Linda Hafizi and Rose Chegwin, who Lauffer dubbed “friends in wine,” paid tribute to Lauffer’s love of musical theater with an amusing give and take that included the titles of more than 30 Broadway shows and songs.
Examples: “We all know she’s ‘Legally Blonde’…,” said Chegwin.
“The slogan ‘awesometown’ has probably created more ‘Spamalot’ than any other slogan used for Valencia,” said Hafizi.
After the duo finished their “show business” they each paid tribute to Lauffer.
“A true friend is someone who knows all about you but still loves you,” said Hafizi. “I am so happy you are my true friend Marlee, it makes me so happy you are a true inspiration to all of us.”
Chegwin offered up a toast to Lauffer: “May your name always be in lights. Let’s raise our glasses to Marlee.”
Katharine Lauffer, 15, took the stage and sang, “Mama, a Rainbow” from the musical “Minnie’s Boys.” As her daughter finished her musical tribute Lauffer could be seen dabbing her eyes, as were many of the attendees in the audience.
As Lauffer tearfully greeted Katharine on stage the audience rose for a standing ovation of the duo.
“What a night,” said Lauffer. “My mascara and fake eyelashes are coming off.”
She then paid tribute to the women of Zonta, “who have always been the movers and shakers” in the SCV.
The evening also included a silent and live auction as well as “fund-a-need” donations to help support the club’s programs.
The Zonta Club of SCV, a member of Zonta International, was established in 1974 and offers scholarships to women and girls, helps women achieve self-sufficiency with LifeForward workshops, assists victims of domestic violence with a domestic violence court advocacy program and promotes interest in science and math by sponsoring a Lego robotics team.
Zonta International includes clubs in 67 countries with nearly 33,000 members worldwide. The mission of Zonta International is to help women and girls locally and internationally.
For more information about the Zonta Club of SCV visit www.scvzonta.org.