Somewhere into the Casita Maria Fiesta, we looked around the Plaza Hotel’s ballroom. Warm lighting illuminated tasteful decor. Old friends in brightly colored gowns on the arms of gallant men and millennial supporters table hopped and danced to Latin inspired rhythms. The room glowed with glamour and bonhomie.
Casita Maria Fiesta is one of the great parties of the season. Speeches are short. And true to its Latin roots, it starts and ends late. “The Plaza gives us special permission to dance ’til midnight,” Jacqueline Weld Drake, who has been Chair, Board of Directors for more than 30 years, told us. “It’s very unusual for them. And it has to be negotiated every year. The unions like everyone to be out at 11. But, we can’t do that!”
Jackie has been chairing this for so long that it feels like her personal party, where “How do you know Jackie?” is a conversation starter. Jackie favors red, so, the room was filled with a sea of scarlet. She was adorned in John Hardy jewelry, one of this evening’s sponsors and honorees. Also wearing it, and arriving with recently appointed Chief Executive Officer, Kareem Gahed, was the new face of John Hardy, Model Adwoa Aboa.
Joining Weld Drake as Dinner Chairmen were HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Urban Karlsson, Mary Snow, and Joan Steinberg. Honorary Chairmen were Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Elizabeth Peabody, and Carlos Souza. Bob Hardwick provided the beat.
“Casita Maria is the oldest Latin charity in NY which makes it the oldest Latin charity in America,” Weld Drake told us. “It was founded by two school teachers who were nieces of Ed Sullivan. Originally, they brought Puerto Rican children to their apartment to tutor. But they realized there was a greater need in the South Bronx. So now, we have an enormous building in the poorest Congressional District in America where more than 1,000 children come every day for arts and education. It’s also a beautiful oasis that serves the whole community.”
The evening honored Ambassador Mary Dawkins and Brigadier General Peter Dawkins, John Hardy Jewelry, Edgar Legaspi, and Juan Montoya with the Casita Maria Gold Medals of Honor. At the podium, Sissi Fleitas — the prominent model, presenter and actress best known for her work on “Sabado Gigante” — hosted the program.
Among the guests were Liza and Sergio Alvarez, Peter Bacanovic, Tony Bechara and Carolina von Humboldt, Tina and Simon Beriro, Violaine and John Bernbach, Cathie and Tom Black, Mercedes Bograd-Levin, Martha Bograd, Geoffrey Bradfield, Halim Bulos, Lady Liliana Cavendish, Marie de Foucaud and Renaud de Tilly, Their Royal Highnesses Crown Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece and Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, Susan Gutfreund, Mai Hallingby Harrison, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Alice Kandell, Eleanora Kennedy, Andrew Kepler, Ann-Hunter Van Kirk, Michèle Gerber Klein, Margo Langenberg, Alicia Lubowski, Mary McFadden, Grace and Chris Meigher, Malu and Sergio Millerman, Ann Nitze, Deborah Norville, Gautam Patel, Tom Quick, Ann Rapp, Pepita Serrano, Hunt Slonem, Benny Tabatabai, Ted Taylor, Barbara and Donald Tober, Monica and Ali Wambold, Daniela Wambold, Marina Wambold, and Maria Celis Wirth.
Jacqueline Weld Drake was seemingly born for her arts education work at Casita Maria. Half Venezuelan and Uruguayan, her mother, born in Venezuela, was the granddaughter of Uruguay’s martyred president Juan Idiarte Borda. Weld Drake is also an author who wrote a novel based on her life in Venezuela, “Rara Avis,” and the definitive biography of art patron and dealer Peggy Guggenheim, “Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim.” Sister Estrellita Brodsky is a philanthropist and scholar, specializing in and committed to raising the profile of Latin American Art. And all three of Jackie’s sisters join her on the Board of Casita Maria.
For more information about Casita Maria, visit www.casitamaria.org.