Julie Bowen helps Irvine Nature Center celebrate milestone

Sure, there was lots to look at and admire at the Irvine Nature Center's "Un-Gala," but most folks had come to the center to catch one particular sight: that of actress — and Baltimore native — Julie Bowen, star of ABC's "Modern Family." Event chair Alicia Matthai said news that Bowen would be coming had doubled the ticket sales from 300 to 600.

She had come to the jeans-themed party at the request of W.T. Dixon Gibbs Jr., the center's former executive director and longtime friend of her parents, Susie and Jack Luetkemeyer.

Looking chic in skinny jeans tucked into stiletto boots, Bowen was more than happy to chat up the purpose of her visit.

"I wish this was here when I was growing up," Bowen said. "I've got three boys. … I wish they were here. In this down economy, [nature centers] need all the support they can get," Bowen said.

Then she spotted a face in the crowd, and announced with a grin, "He was one of my first boyfriends."

Bowen pointed to a red-faced Rusty Ward, UBS certified financial planner, who was standing with his sister, Page Ward Seville, board member, and her husband, Tony Seville. A few minutes later, Ward had cooked up a fun bit of revenge for Bowen's attempt at embarrassing him.

"I'm putting her name on five silent auction items," he whispered with a chuckle.

Meanwhile, Mary Pinkard, event committee member — there with her husband, Greg Pinkard, board member — proudly watched Bowen greet many of her old friends.

"I taught [Julie] when she was at Calvert School," she said.

Another reason for celebration? This was the center's 35th year and its third year at the Owings Mills location, having moved there from Stevenson in July 2008.

"We're celebrating something that started as a grass-roots effort. And now we had so many people, we had to add a tent," Pinkard noted.

"I love this place. My husband and I walk here frequently. We've planted trees here. We're from South Africa, so we love nature. It's spiritually restorative," said Tessa Ellis, Franklin High School science teacher's aide, who had come with her husband, the Rev. Malcolm Ellis, St. Thomas Episcopal Church rector.

"We love the casualness of the party. People don't have to spend a lot of money on clothes, or tickets. They were just $75," said Peggy O'Neill, Irvine's executive director.

Unless you happened to be one of the evening's party crashers.

"We have a few extra stink bugs on our guest list tonight. But, they are nature," said Glenda Legendre, board member.

sloane@sloanebrown.com

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