Wednesday, November 25 , 2015, 4:44 pm | Fair 59º

Mothers Past and Present Are Front and Center at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care Luncheon

13th annual benefit is all about moms with tribute to Jill Levinson and Tom Rollerson’s late mother, Barbara

From left, Neil Levinson with wife and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care Mother’s Day honoree Jill Levinson, and her parents, Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz.
From left, Neil Levinson with wife and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care Mother’s Day honoree Jill Levinson, and her parents, Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

“Honoring and Remembering Our Mothers” was the theme for Friday’s 13th Annual Mother’s Day Luncheon and fundraiser presented by Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. A sold-out and record crowd of 360 guests gathered at the elegant beachside Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara for the festivities.

This unique and memorable celebration of motherhood honors two mothers each year — one in memory and one living — as the nonprofit organization celebrates their lives and acknowledges their contributions to the community.

Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care is Santa Barbara’s largest provider of home health- and hospice care. For more than a century, it has provided high-quality comprehensive care to patients in Santa Barbara County, including those unable to pay, and affects the lives of more than 15,000 residents annually.

This year’s event brought back returning co-chairwomen Pamela Dillman Haskell and Jodi Fishman-Osti, as well as emcee Andrew Firestone. The luncheon included a new fashion show emceed by KEYT NewsChannel 3 anchor and reporter Shirin Rajaee, and featuring spring fashions from seven local boutiques: Allora by Laura, Bonita, Giuliana Haute Couture, Indian Summers, Lana Marmé, Lola and Lolë.

Following the fashion show with 14 beautiful local models, the guests settled into their seats before lunch was served. VNHC president and CEO Lynda Tanner asked them to bow their heads for a moment of silence to pay tribute and honor the memory of deceased mothers.

Dillman Haskell and Fishman-Osti then asked guests to rise if they or someone they knew had been touched by VNHC’s hospice care services and programs, including Home Hospice Care, Loan Closet and Serenity House. Nearly the entire room stood in unison, serving as a vital reminder of the countless residents the agency has served throughout Santa Barbara County.

This year’s honored mother was local Jill Levinson and the remembrance was for Barbara Ward Rollerson, who died in 1977, and was commemorated by her son, Thomas Ward Rollerson.

A generously donated “Caring Mother” bronze statue with figurative and abstract elements by artist Aris Demetrios was again handed out to the honored mother and tribute presenter as a reflection of the artist’s own love for his mother, Virginia Lee Burton.

The luncheon honorees, Levinson and Rollerson, were then treated to a touching Mother’s Day tribute video that featured cherished family portraits, treasured historic accounts and ancestry, and was followed by an award ceremony.

Levinson is a mother of all talents and trades. The Santa Barbara native and mother of three young children — Paige, Drew and Jamie — earned a bachelor of arts degree at Stanford University, with an emphasis in child behavior and development. She worked as a producer for film, television and the Internet, most notably with Lucasfilm and HBO, and also formed her own production company, Big Fish Entertainment.

An active community volunteer, Levinson has served as a trustee of The Granada Theatre’s Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts and Lotusland, and is currently board president for the Children’s Museum of Santa Barbara.

During her acceptance remarks, Levinson said she was honored to be recognized, especially since she was present with her brother, David Frank, when her mother, Irma Jurkowitz, was honored with the same award in 2007.

“This is surreal, and sharing this moment with my husband, Neil, and family who are here celebrating with me makes the day even sweeter,” she proclaimed.

Levinson thanked the audience for taking time out of its busy day to support Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care.

“This is such an important organization that gives so much to our community and is so dear to my family,” she said. “I’m very grateful, thank you.”

Rollerson, founder of the Dream Foundation, also paid a loving tribute to his late mother. Barbara.

The youngest of five siblings from an Irish-Catholic family, Rollerson proudly declared that he was a “mama’s boy.”

“Although my mother is not physically here, there is not a day that has gone by in my entire life that she hasn’t been there for me,” he said. “She has inspired me and she has made me laugh. I have cried to her for help, and I pray to her. She has even talked me out of a nose job.”

Rollerson said his mother died when he was just a young boy after an 11-year battle with multiple sclerosis, and that his father did an amazing job of keeping the family together. But the reality was that he and his siblings didn’t have a mother growing up so they had to create their own families.

“I found that a mother’s job extends beyond blood and extends to where a mother’s love is needed,” he said. “And I am certainly a testament to the fact that it takes a village, or maybe a few villages, to raise a child.

“I am just grateful to be here with some many amazing women and mothers who inspire me and who I admire.”

As a longtime supporter of VNHC, Rollerson admitted that the Mother’s Day Luncheon has always been his favorite event because he didn’t have a place to go on Mother’s Day.

“Being in a room with amazing mothers, staff and board members, I’ve always left here feeling like I had spent the day with my mother,” he said. “I am so thankful for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. It has held such a special place in my heart.

“I was not only a recipient of their care with my family, but it inspired me to begin the Dream Foundation. And in the last 20 years I’ve witnessed so many extraordinary acts of deep compassion and love, and phenomenal programming through hundreds of patients and their testimonials.”

Throughout the month of May, as another way to honor and remember mothers, the community is invited to share a gift of any amount as part of an online Mother’s Appreciation Garden. Here the public will have the opportunity to recognize mothers, grandmothers, and sisters and share the spirit of all these wonderful women in their lives.

For a donation of any amount, VNHC will include the name of the honored mother in its online garden, and also recognize these women with weekly updates on the VNHC Facebook page. Click here to recognize an important woman.

Rollerson summed up the spirit of giving time and financial means to such an important cause.

“I’ve met so many mothers, young and old, at Serenity House who have been caregivers all their lives to their children, and now Serenity House is caring for them,” he said. “So I’m really thankful to have my mother honored, and I’m so thankful to honor all mothers today.

“But I really appreciate this opportunity to give thanks to Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care and all of you who support this essential and wonderful mission.”

Click here for more information about Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, or call 805.965.5555. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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