The Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy’s 42nd Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon

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Guests arriving at the 42nd Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Conservatory Garden, Central Park.

Thursday, May 2, 2024. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in New York with temps in the 70s with a full Sun.

It was also the 42nd Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon which is held in the Park’s Conservatory Garden on 105th Street and Fifth Avenue. It is set behind the Vanderbilt (entrance) Gate that originally was made for the Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s mansion that covered the west side of the block (where Bergdorf Goodman and van Cleef & Arpels are located today). And the actual luncheon is held under a massive white tent on the central lawn.

Walking towards The Vanderbilt Gate at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Conservatory Garden near 105th Street.

This is an important fundraiser because it finances the general upkeep of the Park as well as developing the various aspects of this beautiful center of the city. The woods right in the middle of town.

Before the Women’s Committee was created by Phyllis Cerf Wagner, Norma Dana, Maggie Purnell, and Jean Clark back in 1983, the Park had been in a long developing state of neglect and general lack of interest. We now in the new century have got used to seeing how impeccably the Park is maintained for everyone. We can even take it for granted because of the work the Committee maintains and even develops. All from the initial efforts of four women.

42nd Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon co-chairs Gillian Steel, Barbara Scott, Jennifer Rich, and Ila Paliwal. The luncheon honored Diane Schaub, Curator of Gardens for the Conservancy, and the Conservatory Garden Staff. Photo: Patrick McMullan

So, this past Wednesday was the annual Springtime fundraising luncheon. It was interesting — having covered it for the past couple of decades and then some — to see this lunch in an enormous tent amidst a beautiful impeccable garden attended by so much enthusiasm. It was also the biggest turnout in its history.

And in my book, it’s the “hats” (that the guests wear) that are the draw to amuse, because a lot of the girls and ladies get into with humor; but seriously. It’s a bit silly from the sound of it but witnessing it is a pleasure. It’s amusing  and sometimes even hilarious, but the owner is always the story and the personalities are defined by their choices.

The ladies/gals surrounding this table all flew up from Tennessee for their second year to attend the Awards Luncheon. They were inspired originally by a friend, LaRawn Rhea, who first learned about the Hat Lunch on the NYSD (LaRawn was unable to attend this year). Attending the luncheon also gave the visitors the opportunity to take in some Broadway theatre and special restaurants before taking a quick flight back to Tennessee; see you next year, girls!

So as a result, as I intended, aside from being a lunch guest of Wendy Carduner at Eleanora Kennedy’s table, getting as many photos of the hats that caught my interest for one reason or another. And sometimes a laugh, too.

All of this amusement delivered a very agreeable atmosphere to be in. That is evidence, to me at least, and it raised $4.5 million for the Park of the people.

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