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July 9, 2008 > 'Puttin on Your Top Hat' for Local Healthcare

'Puttin on Your Top Hat' for Local Healthcare

Annual Gala Has Raised More Than $1 Million for Washington Hospital Services Over 20 Years

It was 1987. Ronald Reagan was president, the New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl, "Platoon" won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and a first class stamp cost 22 cents. That year, a group of community-minded citizens started a local tradition that continues to this day.
People who live and work in the Tri-City area look forward every year to the annual "Top Hat" dinner-dance presented each fall by the Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation to raise funds for vital programs and services in the Washington Hospital Healthcare System. They come to the black-tie affair because they are supporting excellent healthcare in the community. And, they come because it is fun. For the past two years, the event has been sold out.
"Over the years we've had a wonderful time while Top Hat has raised more than $1 million for programs and services at Washington Hospital and throughout the healthcare system," says Brent Hodson, executive director of the Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation. "By supporting this event, the community has helped to initiate critically needed new healthcare services and expand existing ones. Washington Hospital Healthcare System wouldn't be the same without this vital financial support."
Top Hat has contributed to diabetes education, community mammography services, the women's health program and lymphedema care, as well as the Community Health Resource Library and the Washington on Wheels community mobile clinic, to name just a few.
Following in the footsteps of the last 21 Top Hat galas, this year's event - scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 11 - will be an elegant soiree with delicious food and drink, exciting entertainment and dancing to live music. It will be a landmark occasion, celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Washington Township Health Care District and the 50th anniversary of when Washington Hospital first opened its doors to the community. Six hundred guests are expected.
In 1987, putting on the fundraiser wasn't such a tremendous undertaking. The idea for Top Hat started in 1986, when the then four-year-old Washington Hospital Foundation held a dinner-dance at the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton to raise money for Washington Hospital programs.
"It wasn't called Top Hat then," recalls this year's event chair Fran Stone, a member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees and a long-time Washington Hospital volunteer. "At that time, there weren't many places in the Fremont area where you could have a large, elegant dinner-dance. So we decided to step it up and take it to San Francisco. We held it at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill and called it 'Putting on Your Top Hat.' That's where the name came from."
Stone and two other volunteers chaired Top Hat II in 1988. By then, the event was on a roll, growing steadily in size and popularity each year. Over time, themes have included Mardi Gras, the Orient Express and Phantom of the Opera and other Broadway successes. More recently, in 2006, revelers celebrated the Roaring '20s, with a vintage 1929 car and actors in period dress serving as greeters. Top Hat has also taken guests on virtual trips through history to places like Babylon (of "Beach Blanket" fame) and across the globe to Paris and countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Outstanding entertainment has always been a highlight, with everything from 1960s bands The Drifters and Charelles, to Broadway shows, to a snake handler and henna painting. Dancing has also been a big part of the evening, with music provided by groups such as the Harry James Orchestra, and popular bands including Stompy Jones and Joe Sharino. In 1997, Top Hat moved to San Jose before finally coming to the Marriott Hotel in Fremont in 2000, where it has remained until now.
The spectacular event wouldn't be possible without the hard work of the volunteer Top Hat Committee, led by Stone.
"We really enjoy doing it and are committed to making Top Hat a success, both for its entertainment value and as a fundraiser for the hospital," she explains.
Many committee members are on the Foundation's Board of Trustees and have worked together on Top Hat for the last few years. It takes about six months to make all the arrangements and put everything together.
"The hospital and the Foundation would like to express our sincere thanks to the volunteers, the many faithful event sponsors and the hundreds of guests, some of whom have been coming for the last 21 years," adds Hodson. "Top Hat XXII promises to be one of the best in a long line of dinner-dances, and I'd like to invite the whole community to join us. It's going to be the party of the year and 'the place to be' come October 11."
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To become a Top Hat sponsor or to learn more about purchasing tickets to Top Hat XXII, call the Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation at (510) 791-3428. For more information about the Washington Hospital Healthcare Foundation, visit www.whhs.com, click on "Giving to WHHS" and select "Our Foundation" from the drop-down menu.
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