Rona Ramon, the wife of Israel's first astronaut, the late Columbia Space Shuttle payload specialist Ilan Ramon, has agreed to be the keynote speaker at The Great Neck Arts Center's annual journal dinner dance, called "Gala 2003: Flight of Imagination." The event is being held at the Nassau County Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, on Nov. 20.
Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, left, visited with Arts Center "Man of the Year" Albert Nassim shortly before his fatal flight aboard the space shuttle Columbia earlier this year.
Mrs. Ramon will present The Arts Center's "Man of the Year Award" to Albert Nassim of Great Neck, a fervent supporter of The Arts Center and its mission. Mr. Nassim, a friend of Mrs. Ramon and her late husband, serves as the vice president of the Israel Air Force Foundation, an international organization supporting Israel's air defenses.
The Arts Center is also honoring Jeffrey L. Bass with the organization's "Founder's Award" and naming Judy Amsel its "Artist of Distinction."
Ilan Ramon, in addition to his noted career as a flyer, was also very interested in the arts. He was delighted to share an interest in music with one of his sons, Tal, Mrs. Ramon recently recalled. She said her son "has his Dad's talent in music, in a much better version."
Mrs. Ramon has expressed an interest in touring The Arts Center when she is in Great Neck for the dinner dance. The facility first came to her attention through Mr. Nassim, whose children and grandchildren both have attended Arts Center courses.
"I am honored she is coming to The Arts Center and Gala 2003," said Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil. She said Mrs. Ramon would be joined by many dignitaries, elected officials and residents of the community at the event.
In 1997, Colonel Ramon was selected for the 16-day NASA mission dedicated to science and research. Working 24-hours a day in two alternating shifts, the crew successfully conducted approximately 80 experiments before ending abruptly on Feb. 1 when Columbia and its crew perished during re-entry 16 minutes before its scheduled landing.
"He flew to the heights and speed as only a space shuttle can fly," Mrs. Ramon said recently. "He enjoyed every second of it. His smile was an inspiration for so many people. Ilan made his dream come true, and I am happy for that. Not many people live for the moment."
The gala and its accompanying journal have evolved over the years into a major event for The Arts Center, both socially and financially. Celebrities, entertainers, artisans and supporters of The Arts Center in the community and beyond traditionally turn out in big numbers for the event, held in the fall each year. It is The Arts Center's major fundraiser.
This year, half of all funds raised at the gala will go to The Arts Center's Building Fund and be used to support a significant expansion of facilities, now nearing completion. The expansion of The Arts Center includes the construction of the Doris Weinstein Playhouse, expanded art gallery space and many studios and classrooms. It is being designed by the noted architect Mark Stumer of Great Neck, a partner in the architectural design firm Mojo Stumer.
The balance of funds raised will be used by the School for the Arts for further development of programs in music, dance, art and film, as well as Arts Center outreach programs, which include scholarships and off-site programs in public schools throughout the Long Island community.
Past Arts Center honorees have included Francis Ford Coppola, Morton Gould, Vicki Benalloul, Robert Rosegarten, Mark Stumer, Ronni Davidowitz and Morris Levy. Arts Center galas feature live entertainers, celebrities, big-name entertainment and continuous excitement.
"This year's gala will be no exception," Mrs. Gil said. "Because it will take place in an actual air force hangar, it will be a feast for the eyes, palate and spirit. The gala's theme says that the vision of The Arts Center has taken flight and is now reaching for new heights."
"People should come to this event," Mrs. Gil said, "because The Arts Center benefits the community in so many ways. The Gala provides an opportunity for people in our community to show their appreciation and support for The Arts Center and have a wonderful time dining, dancing and enjoying great entertainment." She said the evening will include a silent auction, a fabulous raffle and lots of surprises."
Information about "Gala 2003," business and corporate sponsorship opportunities and advertising in the accompanying journal is available by calling The Arts Center at 829-2570.