Del Mar, CA … Guests at Don Diego Scholarship Foundation’s June 24, 2022 “Reunite & Celebrate” Gala and Sam Hunt Concert at the San Diego County Fair were the very first event-goers to enjoy “The Center” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The venue will soon come alive with performances presented by the famed Belly Up. On this night it was a festive destination welcoming Gala-goers back after a two-year, pandemic-driven hiatus.
Although the venue was indoors, the evening’s stars shown brightly as, one by one, Don Diego’s Class of 2022 Scholars sharing a total of $55,000 in college scholarships took to the stage to receive their awards from donors and tell the enthusiastic audience where they were headed: Duke, Purdue, South Dakota State, Cal Poly and UC Davis, among other universities; and their intended careers, including biomed scientist, conservation officer, interior architect, and even Don Diego’s first chef.
Top Scholar Ethan Rockwell, who won three scholarships totaling $11,000, spoke on behalf of his 17 peers as he told 200+ attendees, “We thank the donors so much for this high honor. The money will help immensely and we appreciate your faith in us.”
Abigail Cotton, like Ethan an outstanding Valley Center High graduate, said she will use her two scholarships totaling $8,000 to major in Animal Science at Blinn College on her way to becoming a livestock veterinarian.
Among the families attending the Gala were Josue and Rosa Arias of Julian with their daughters Alyssa and Nikki. Alyssa is a 2022 Scholar; Nikki won a top $20,000 award in 2020. Their bursting-with-pride parents related, “Our girls are a huge blessing to us. We believed our children, first-generation Americans, should do better than ourselves, and here they are, both UC Davis students! Being first-generation college students is thanks to their hard work. We thank Don Diego for believing in them.”
Before heading to the sold-out Sam Hunt concert, guests mingled with students, enjoyed a gourmet dinner, and celebrated as presenters shared the incredible 36-year journey of the organization and the equally incredible journey of retiring inaugural Executive Director, Chana Mannen. She received plaudits from Board members, a personalized bench to be installed at the Don Diego Legacy Fountain, and official proclamations, including one from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors declaring June 24, 2022 “Chana Mannen Day throughout San Diego County.”
Incoming Executive Director Ashley Colburn McCaughan thanked the guests, saying, “Your presence tonight and your ongoing contributions have enabled Don Diego to continue providing transformative scholarships and agriculture education opportunities to so many people, including myself, a 2005 recipient.” She noted, “We have much to celebrate as we look back and much to anticipate as we look ahead.”
To kickstart fundraising for future scholarships, unique items were auctioned off, including autographed guitars by Trace Adkins and Toby Keith, a blue ribbon lamb, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Turf Club memberships, and something truly special: an AKC English Cream Golden Retriever puppy. His original name, Chance, fittingly reflects what Don Diego is all about: offering opportunities to high-achieving, deserving Scholar-Leaders who are eager to become changemakers in their community and the world. In honor of their sons, 2022 Scholars Skylar and Carson, the Rossi family of Lakeside winning the bid for the pup renamed their new dog Don Diego.
As the program ended on this high note, everyone agreed that the 2022 Don Diego Gala had indeed been an evening to raise the roof – or in this case, the woof! The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as the Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947-1984. Since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded $1,276,844 in scholarships to 362 students and in agriculture education grants. More information is at www.dondiegoscholarship.org and www.facebook.com/DonDiegoScholarship.