New Canaan's Keteyian, other local celebs raise money at Morton's
STAMFORD -- Former football greats, familiar television faces and other notable sports celebrities donned aprons Tuesday night in an effort to raise money to fight against a dangerous children's disease that get little public recognition.
The event, "Hannah Storm and Friends: Morton's Celebrity Server Night," was put on by the Hannah Storm Foundation, as Storm, a Greenwich resident, has lived with a physical defect that led to her starting the charity in her name. Storm asked many of her closest celebrity friends to work as waiters for the guests, who paid $300 per plate to attend the event at Morton's the Steakhouse in downtown Stamford. There were also live and silent auctions that accompanied the five-hour event.
The ESPN anchor was born with a vascular birthmark on her left eyelid and underneath the same eye. Two years ago, she started the Hannah Storm Foundation to spread the word about a condition that causes a lot of children to go through life physically and psychologically damaged -- if they end up living long, at all.
"Most people who have something disfiguring on their face don't go into the public eye," Storm said. "So there's been no celebrity presence or awareness about birthmarks and their related conditions. It's a tough condition to understand anyway, because people think, Oh, it's a little birthmark, no problem. They don't understand kids can go blind, lose limbs or die because of birthmarks and their related conditions. They may not understand insurance problems, the fact it's not paid for by insurance companies."
The problem is much more widespread in poorer countries, where health care isn't as strong as it is in the United States.
"Kids that have birthmarks rot away in orphanages in other countries," Storm said.
Smiles, laughs and conversation dominated the night that was dedicated to the serious cause. It was the first major event put on by the Storm foundation. She and those working within the foundation put together this idea eight months ago, Storm said.
"Really, the dual benefits is how we get local into the community," Christopher Artinian, 41, president and CEO of Morton's Restaurant Group, Inc., said. Artinian opened the Morton's in Stamford in February of 1998, and his relationship with Storm dates back to when Morton's would host March of Dimes charity events. There are 76 Morton's restaurants worldwide, and Tuesday night's event was the third such celebrities-as-waiters charity event. To date, Roger Drake, the senior vice president of Morton's, said more than $700,000 has been raised, with five more slated to come in the next few months in correlation with five other charities.
The man in charge of keeping the crowd in check was New Canaan resident and longtime CBS News reporter, Armen Keteyian. Keteyian and Storm have known each other for 10 years, he said, and it was a no-brainer to help out a friend trying to spread knowledge about a little-known disease.
"Morton's of Stamford is one of the few places I can kind of call home, as far as a charity place," Keteyian said. "And so, when Hannah asked me, I said, `I'd love to.' Hannah's one of the trailblazers in the field for women's broadcaster, so, she didn't have to ask twice."
It wasn't a first-time thing for Keteyian, who took his responsibility as emcee seriously, but with the right amount of flare, too.
"These kind of events are a lot of fun to do," Keteyian said. "I'm more of the facilitator and trying to throw out the funny things if you need a little fun."
Keteyian, who is known in social and charity circles as a competent court-holder, unfortunately, is now forced to turn down more and more such events due to his busy schedule with CBS News.
"My wife, Dede, will laugh every time I say I'm going to do one of these things, because invariably it's going to turn up on a night when I have a story on the air," Keteyian said, as he had a piece run on the "CBS Evening News" Tuesday night. "But the piece was such that I could leave early. But I've really cut back. This is one of the few things I do now, because someone like Hannah asks me. This was something that was so important to her, so it was important to me."
The celebrities in the room Tuesday night: Stamford's Bobby Valentine; former NFL players Amani Toomer, Mike Ditka and Marcellus Wiley; ESPN anchors Bob Ley, John Anderson and Josh Elliott; tennis great Chris Evert; former NBC News anchor Stone Phillips; Olympic gold medalist Dan Jansen; Dave Price, from CBS' "The Early Show"; and NBC Sports' Dan Hicks, Storm's husband.
Ditka, who worked with Storm at NBC Sports, didn't give it a second thought to helping out his colleague and friend.
"I was going to get home this morning, but I'll get home tomorrow morning instead, simple" Ditka said as he stepped away from his brief waiter training session. "She's a good girl, and I really didn't know anything about the charity, and when she explained it all to me, it was pretty good, an easy decision."
Event organizers estimated Wednesday afternoon the event raised nearly $100,000 by night's end.