La Providencia Guild of CHLA Hosts Fall Gala

(Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader) - La Providencia Guild President Jill Kessler and her husband Barry enjoying an evening of fundraising at “The Palms Supper Club.”

First published in the Oct. 29 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

This past week, members, friends and supporters of the Burbank-based La Providencia Guild of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) stepped back in time for a sentimental journey to the golden age of supper clubs as the organization presented their 75th annual fall gala.
The doors of the Downton Burbank Deluxe Banquet Hall served as the portal that transported the attendees back to the glitzy nightspots of 1930s and ’40s such as New York’s Rainbow Room, Copacabana and El Morocco, and Los Angeles’ Mocambo, Brown Derby, Cocoanut Grove, Romanoff’s and the Trocadero.
Welcomed to “The Palms Supper Club” by the evening’s chairperson Ann O’Donnell-Gardner and La Providencia Guild President Jill Kessler, the festively dressed participants received a taste of what life after dark was like for Tinsel Town royalty and the Big Apple’s high society of that bygone era.

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While this event, one of the guild’s most significant fundraisers of the year, has a long history of presenting a shopping boutique and glamorous fashion show, the organization’s president revealed her desire, in this post-pandemic era, to change things up.
“My goal was to do something different for our events this year,” Kessler said during her welcoming remarks. “That hope was made a reality by Ann who has done something really different. I know change isn’t easy,” she said referencing the traditional fashion shows. “But, change can be good, and what she has put together for this evening is very good.”
What O’Donnell-Gardner put together was a cabaret performance of standards from the post-Great Depression and pre-World War II era by a quintet composed of herself, her husband, Brooks Gardner, an actor and teacher who for more than a decade headed up the theater arts department at Burbank High School. On screen, he was best known for his role as Travis, the wild and boisterous, steak-loving cowboy who served as the commercial spokesman for Black Angus restaurants from the late-1990s through the early-2000s.
O’Donnell-Gardner, who is also an accomplished professional actress and singer, met Brooks in 1978 when the couple were cast as the leads in a summer stock production of “Two Gentleman of Verona.”
Last week’s performers also included actor and singers Fred Applegate and his wife, Cherie Sprosty, who is a nationally renowned Catholic liturgist who has served as the liturgy director and coordinator at New York’s Shrine of St. Frances Cabrini, Burbank’s St. Robert Bellarmine Church, for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Applegate, who has appeared in hundreds of television roles and in numerous films including “The Producers,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Spaced Invaders,” is perhaps best-known for his extensive stage work on Broadway and London’s West End. He played Cogsworth in the national tour of “Beauty and the Beast,” originated the roles of Inspector Kemp and the blind hermit in “Young Frankenstein,” and played the monsignor in “Sister Act” and the wizard in “Wicked.”
Rounding out the entertaining fivesome, who were accompanied by John Rusnak, a pianist, composer and studio musician whose work is featured in numerous motion pictures and television productions, was Burbank vocalist Lisa Murray. A longtime guild member, former model, and equestrian, Murray’s talents also include hair and makeup artistry, painting, jewelry-making, gourmet cooking and grief counseling.
Along with the evening’s entertainment, patrons of “The Palms Supper Club” also received heartfelt gratitude for their support and a status report by Pat Maskell who is the assistant vice president of donor services at CHLA.
Reporting that CHLA currently has 391 active beds, 106 of which are for pediatric critical care patients, more than any hospital west of the Mississippi River, Maskell said that last year their anesthesia and critical care department handled 23,000 cases, 2,700 intensive care admissions, 12,300 pain medication encounters and 3,600 palliative care encounters.
Guild members were especially interested in hearing Maskell’s statistics regarding the two associate chair programs they help fund: endocrinology and transplant surgery.
“[Our] department of endocrinology is busier than ever treating 2,400 children with diabetes annually and 7,000 children with other endocrine disorders,” Maskell revealed. “We have also been doing between 25 and 30 liver transplants each year, more than any other children’s hospital in California.”
Along with Kessler and O’Donnell-Gardner, last week’s event was also made possible by the guild’s vice presidents, Nancy Wiggins and Sue Meckley, and the producing committee composed of DeeDee Rowlands, Donna Salant, Joyce Shafer, Maria Di Liberto, Carol Thielemann, Glenda Jones, Jeanne Margolin, Teresa Garcia, Joan Chandler, Carrie McCoy and Veronica Chavoor.
The La Providencia Guild is one of 26 associate and affiliate members of CHLA and is governed by the Associates and Affiliates Office. Its mission is to support the services and research of the hospital, and, this year, the group is putting its focus on helping to fund an endowment for the chief of the division for endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism and an endowment for chief of hepatobiliary, pancreatic surgery and abdominal organ transplantation.
Along with its thrift shop, the guild stages numerous fundraising events throughout the year, some for members and others that are open to the public.
For more information about the La Providencia Guild’s Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Thrift Shop, located at 3301 Burbank Blvd., guild membership, upcoming events or to make donations, visit or call (818) 845-6606.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at or (818) 563-1007.