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Updated Monday, November 19, 2012 at 11:01 PM

Rizzs goes to bat for the kids; Cornish puts on dramatic benefit

By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist

Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs celebrated his 39th birthday again the other night by doing one of his favorite things: hosting his annual Rick's Toys for Kids fundraiser at the Harbor Club in Bellevue.

The money raised — more than $1 million since it started in 1995 — goes to 17 different agencies, including the Atlantic Street Center in South Seattle.

Five years ago, the major sponsor of Atlantic Street's Christmas toys pulled out, saying donations were down. Rizzs saw the story on TV and called Executive Director Edith Elion.

Rizzs invited Elion on his annual shopping spree at Toys R Us and asked her what the center needed. Footballs and soccer balls, she told him.

"He goes over and clears off the whole rack," Elion said. "And they have been saving Christmas ever since."

Rizzs will do predawn shopping over two mornings next month.

"It's just important to be there for these kids," he said.

At the dinner, the front office met with the former locker room. There were Mariners President Chuck Armstrong and his wife, Susan; Marilyn Niehaus, widow of longtime announcer Dave; and former Mariners John Olerud, Dave Valle and Jay Buhner, who was the highest bidder on tableside tequila shots, courtesy of Edgar and Holli Martinez and their El Zacatecano Mezcal.

"We do it with them," Holli Martinez said. "But, for me, I believe in very small amounts."

Her husband was at another event, so Holli enlisted Leah Buhner to help pour.

"Goes down smooth!" said Jay Buhner, then shook his shiny head. "I'm not a tequila drinker."

Dinner theater like no other

Sunday night's benefit for the Cornish College of the Arts Scholarship Fund wisely featured students playing piano and violin, performing spoken-word pieces, joyously dancing the finish off the stage and, in the lobby, playing chess with pieces made of ice.

"It's like speed chess," said the artist, Chris Walsh, who said the board represents memory and entropy. "All the pieces melt in 20 minutes."

Special guest Bill Irwin — who could win a Tony for just walking across the room — was happy to return to Seattle, where he performed "Waiting for Godot" 18 years ago and "Text for Nothing" in 2001, both at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

"I have good memories of great parties and terrific, smart audiences," said Irwin, who just shot the pilot for a show called "Monday Mornings," which was written by David E. Kelley and co-stars Alfred Molina.

At the pre-dinner reception: Ben Moore, Eve and Chap Alford (who endowed a $25,000 scholarship named for Cornish's former vice president of development, Jane Ewing), artist Julie Speidel and Cornish President Nancy Uscher — the first woman to head the college since Nellie Cornish founded it in 1914.

Board President Virginia Anderson showed up in a slinky, fishtailed gown — in defiance of turning 65. ("I just went on Medicare," she said).

Irwin was fresh from teaching a master class to Cornish students, calling them "a very gifted bunch."

"There is hope for the American theater," he said.

Vive la France — and Friday

Nobody needed a glass of Beaujolais more the other night than Jack Cowan, the honorary French consul and the president of the French-American Chamber of Commerce.

Cowan had spent the week before Friday's 20th annual Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Festival answering questions about what he does, compared to what Jill Kelley — the Tampa socialite and "consul" who set off the Petraeus scandal — might have done.

Here's all you need to know: Cowan works — a lot. And while there may be perks like lunch at the Governor's Mansion, it's mostly paperwork and phone calls and, well, not enough wine.

Thankfully, it was flowing at the Columbia Tower Club, and, as is French tradition, people were gulping it, along with Hama Hama oysters, Peterson Cheese, Penn Cove shellfish and Grand Central Bakery bread.

Making the rounds: Jacques and Nicole Boiroux, Susan Gates, Bill and Annee King and Regina Daigneault. Charla Pereira and Gerald Zytnicki were toasting the launch of their Windows 8 application called Fresh Paint, featured on a screen in Times Square the other week.

Delta Air Lines raffled off a pair of round-trip business-class tickets to Paris, valued at $10,400.

Carol Rich, of Redmond, bought four $10 tickets. The former Pan Am flight attendant had only seen the City of Light at night; getting in at 11 p.m. and flying out at 8 a.m.

Alas, the winner was Katherine Straus, 25, a teaching student from Bainbridge Island, who only bought one ticket.

"That will pay off," said Rich, no sore loser. "It will change her."

Parting words

From Jedidiah Esposito, one of 15 "Emerging Leaders" chosen by the United Way to engage young professionals in the organization, and in nonprofits like Fare Start, which celebrated its 20th anniversary the other night:

"Life is boring if it's all about you."

Names in Bold appears Tuesdays. Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334; nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @nicolebrodeur. Subscribe on Facebook: facebook.com/STNicoleBrodeur


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