It was an evening of illumination.

The 2011 PBS SoCal gala on Saturday evening attracted a crowd of nearly 500 guests converging upon the Orange County Fair & Event Center's hangar building in Costa Mesa. Co-chairs of the mega successful party Peggy Goldwater Clay and Ardelle St. George themed the fourth annual gala "Illumination," and they pulled out all the stops.

Arriving at dusk for a hosted cocktail reception, guests were entertained by a series of Cirque performers including acrobats, dancers, mimes, stilt walkers and fire twirlers. There was even a human butterfly appearing in an enormous plastic bubble and coming to life via its own metamorphosis. The black-tie evening was attended by Orange County philanthropists helping to raise more than $550,000 net for PBS SoCal, formerly known as KOCE.

At 7 p.m., the doors to the massive hangar opened to reveal a most elegant party set up in the industrial space. Rows of rectangular banquet tables seating 10 guests were lined up in several columns facing an enormous dance floor and elevated stage upon which the 35-member band of OC philanthropist and entrepreneur John Tu was assembled to entertain for the evening.

Golden Chiavari chairs were imported to help set the tone of the glittering night. Sparkling table linens underscored oversized clear glass chargers and a row of wine goblets at each setting, which were continuously being refreshed with vintage wines courtesy of American Wine and Spirits.

The tables were centered with overflowing arrangements of orange rose blossoms created by Sunny Ravenbach of White Lilac Inc., Design Studio and surrounded by elegantly wrapped glittering boxes topped with rhinestone baubles made available by Neiman Marcus as table gifts for the patrons of PBS SoCal. Neiman Marcus executives Michaele Hall and Jamie Broadhurst were on hand representing the company.

A multi-course dinner featuring an entrée of filet mignon topped with a grilled Portobello mushroom was catered by The Island Hotel in first-class style on location. Island executive Barbara Eidson supervised ensuring that every detail for the massive dinner was handled with panache.

Special honorees of the night included John and Mary Tu, who not only underwrote a great part of the evening, including providing the orchestra at no charge, but also offered a $100,000-matching grant to PBS SoCal in order to inspire the audience to bid generously during the "Fund-The-Need" portion of the evening. Also honored was the work of Goodwill Industries of Orange County represented by Dan and Sheila Rogers.

In addition to the generosity of John and Mary Tu, significant financial contributions came from Heidi Cortese and Rick Sherman representing RCC, Inc., Mindy and Glenn Stearns, Julia and George Argyros and S. Paul and Marybelle Musco. Contributions from these important donors topped the $350,000-fundraising mark benefiting the educational programming efforts of PBS SoCal.

The gala was especially important this year given the enormous task and responsibility assumed by the former KOCE-TV Orange County led by president Mel Rogers and his team. With the closure of KCET-Television Los Angeles last year a void was created in Southern California for the broadcasting of PBS programming.

With the support of the National PBS administration led by president Paula Kerger, Rogers and staff took on the responsibility of broadcasting PBS programming from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs, including the significant markets of Los Angeles and Orange County. The financial burden of this growth has been significant.

However, in a very short six-month period the new station has managed to double its audience viewership and participation. In addition to cultural and entertainment programming, PBS SoCal functions as an important classroom experience for nearly a half a million Southern California children and students.

On hand to recognize the enormous responsibility of PBS SoCal was board chairwoman Jo Ellen Allen Chatham, ever eloquent standing before the dinner crowd attired in a classic celadon silk ball gown flourished with a minimal feminine ruffle on the side.

Her intelligent presentation set the tone for the speeches of the night including remarks from PBS SoCal president Mel Rogers, and a generous and impassioned surprise appearance from national PBS president Paula Kerger who was supposed to be present for the launching for the shuttle at Cape Canaveral, but due to its postponement was able to jet into Orange County front and center for the Illumination Gala.

The success of the evening was also achieved because of the support of Newport's Phil and Mary Lyons, Bette and Wylie Aitken, Kelly and Jim Mazzo, Maureen and Robert Zehntner, and Michael Botsko, representing corporate sponsor Tiffany & Co. Spotted in the crowd were Mark Van Buskirk, Karen and Brian Jones, Loretta and Gary Graham, Marcia Kay and Ronald Radelet, Kristine and Christopher Holt, Michele Yamamoto, Luis Irurita, Warren Coy, Rachael Palmer, Charlotte Emmons and the lovely Anne McDowell, respected development executive for O.C. non profits.

PBS SoCal anchors Anne Police and Ed Arnold emceed the gala in professional style, which concluded with a lively dance concert thanks to the talented John Tu and his California Dreamin' Orchestra.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.