By Nina Aghadjanian
Amid a summer replete with COVID-19 versions of events like drive-thru graduations and concerts, the Adventist Health Glendale Foundation transformed the rooftop of the Americana at Brand into a nostalgic movie experience for its first-ever “drive-in gala.”
Aptly named, UNGala 2020 convened 140 cars and more than 200 guests to recognize Dr. Ronald S. and Georgiana Wu, this year’s honorees after which the foundation named the medical center’s main auditorium for their 52-year service to the hospital and community.
On Wednesday just before sunset, casually dressed and masked dignitaries pulled up to level eight of the Americana, where they were greeted with a welcome bag full of movie snacks and celebratory flags that read, “Congratulations Dr. Ronald and Mrs. Georgiana Wu.” From their cars, attendees waved to and cheered Adventist Health Glendale President Alice Issai and the Wus, who briefly stood outside their car while maintaining a six-foot distance. Attendees remained inside their vehicles for the entire evening in this unique “no contact” fundraiser.
The smell of popcorn wafted through the air while Abba’s “Dancing Queen” played from Issai’s convertible for the start of what felt like a feel-good party from which the hospital could be seen in the distance.
Though a real stage and hors d’oeuvres were sidelined by social distancing, the UNGala event, which was planned in a matter of two weeks, went on. The procession turned to car Tetris as vehicles made their way in front of two massive projection screens to watch the program, audible via K-Wave radio station 107.9 FM.
Movie trivia questions appeared on the screens before Elder Velino Salazar, president of the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, recited a prayer for COVID-19 patients. Foundation board chair Helen McDonagh, UNGala 2020 co-chair Amanda Dundee and Issai also shared opening remarks in pre-recorded videos.
“There are all kinds of heroes in the world — there are those who work the front lines and those who stand solidly in support. Ronald and Georgiana Wu are both,” Issai said.
UNGala 2020 co-chair Dr. Harlan Gibbs took the microphone to announce the fundraising portion of the drive-in gala, which involved a quick response, or QR, code on placards that supporters could scan to make financial pledges. The foundation raised more than $1 million, which will benefit hospital services and programs in addition to COVID-19 relief.
Then family, friends, colleagues and former students shared heartfelt messages about the Wu couple’s achievements and passion for the medical center and Glendale in a video montage.
“Mission has been instilled in the DNA of both my parents,” said Crystal Simpson, one of the Wus’ daughters who was in attendance with her sister Roxanne Wu.
Adding to the conviviality of the evening, and at hospital foundation President Irene Bourdon’s suggestion, guests honked their horns, flashed their headlights and waved their flags to salute the Wus before 2008’s “Mamma Mia!” began.
“Even in the midst of a very challenging time, it’s been a really beautiful experience to work on something like this because of the joy it’s bringing our donors and our hospital friends as we celebrate each other in a safe environment after not having been out in months,” Bourdon said.
Local Couple Honored
Glendale residents Dr. Ronald and Georgiana Wu, longtime supporters of Adventist Health Glendale, were honored at the hospital foundation’s “UnGala” fundraiser at the Americana at Brand this past week.
Dr. Wu, who graduated from Loma Linda University’s medical school in 1968 and immediately began his internship and residency at Glendale Adventist Hospital (as it was known at the time), also became engaged to Georgiana that same year.
“This hospital has been our home for 52 years,” Georgiana said. “Ever since Ronald graduated from medical school, this has been his one and only hospital where he practiced.”
The honorees are being celebrated with the naming of the hospital’s main auditorium in their honor.
“Our auditorium is likely the most publicly utilized space in our medical center,” said hospital Foundation President Irene Bourdon. “All of our different communities – associates and physicians, businesses, residents and local leaders, civic and non-profit organizations – attend events in our auditorium. Dr. and Mrs. Wu have been of service to so many families, patients and healthcare providers, their name and gift to the hospital will be recognized and appreciated by many thousands of people.”
The couple’s love and devotion to the mission and generously giving of themselves through decades of service have created a legacy, according to an Adventist Health Glendale spokesperson.
“We were brought up giving – almost like a DNA in our body – so we just want to see the hospital and our community to become a better place for everybody,” Ronald and Georgiana said in a joint statement. “This is our home.
“The auditorium is an important place for people to gather and learn and celebrate special occasions. This is where doctors meet for continuing education, and we want them to have the best surroundings and equipment.”
Dr. Wu, an obstetrician widely known for helping women with difficult pregnancies, retired from private practice in 2017 after more than 49 years and involved in an estimated 20,000 babies. He was one of few physicians in Southern California who specialized in vaginal-breech deliveries – any position where the baby is not head first. His patients, seeking the skills of a doctor who understands that “women want choices when giving birth,” came to Glendale from throughout the U.S. and as far away as China and India, according to a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Georgiana was on a mission of her own to do whatever she could to help support the hospital. She earned a state license and worked part-time as a medical technologist. She underwent training at Pacific Union College as a registered nurse, received her license and worked until she had children. Georgiana then volunteered for several years in the hospital gift shop, joined the Guild and twice served as its president, and during the time leading up to the opening of the West Tower in 2007, she was a member of the hospital’s Governing Board of Directors.
In more recent years, Georgiana’s leadership on the Foundation’s Board of Directors and her collaboration with other Guild members inspired multiple fundraising efforts to support enhancements in patient care, including Giraffe OmniBeds for the NICU.