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Sunday, August 3, 2014

'Keep Memory Alive' Foundation Honors Founder of Lagos Jewelry

Steven Lagos, founder of the Lagos jewelry brand, was honored for his 18-year commitment to the “Keep Memory Alive” foundation. He and his staff were feted at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a building in downtown Las Vegas dedicated to finding a cure for degenerative brain diseases and helping families to cope with caring for those suffering from debilitating neurological disorders. Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

Downtown Las Vegas is still a work in progress. On one stretch of near barren land there have been plans to open several landmark facilities as a way to revitalize the area and create a more diverse economic base for the city. Several projects have been completed but one stands out for its architecture of bent, twisted and curved metal that seems to grow out of the desert. It’s the iconic work of architect Frank Gehry and the building in question is the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, designed by Frank Gehry. Photo credit: Anthony DeMarco

The center provides out-patient care for those suffering from a number of brain ailments, including experimental treatments, and research into various brain diseases. Equally important for the principals involved is that it provides help for the family of those suffering from debilitating neurological disorders. 

The $80 million structure is the crowning achievement of “Keep Memory Alive,” a Las Vegas-based foundation dedicated to finding a cure for degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington 's, Multiple Sclerosis and ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). One person who has been there from the beginning, 18 years now, is Steven Lagos, founder of the Lagos jewelry brand. 

Lagos has been quiet about his longtime commitment to Keep Memory Alive. But his contribution came to light in late May when the foundation decided to place his name on the Ruvo Center’s “Honor Wall” by the entrance of the facility, which recognizes those most responsible for its success. The annual jewelry tradeshows in Las Vegas provided a chance for Lagos to share the honor with his staff who were in Vegas supporting the brand. 

Steve Lagos on the ladder with his staff, family and friends. Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

So on May 30 there was Lagos standing on a ladder outside the Lou Ruvo Center removing the gift wrapping (bow and all) of a plaque revealing his name while his staff looked on. He received a bottle of Beluga vodka from Jeffrey Cummings, director of the Lou Ruvo Center. Guests received a tour of the spotless, family-friendly facility; pictures were taken with staff, family members and friends; followed by a caviar and champagne reception in the facility’s “Event Center,” with an interior view of Gehry’s iconic twisted and curved walls. The reception was a gift from the foundation to Lagos but he insisted on paying for it.

Steve Lagos after unwrapping his plaque on the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health "Honor Wall." Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

“Let’s make an event out of it and we’ll pay for the evening,” Lagos said. He also added a donation to the foundation.

Steven Lagos receives a bottle of Beluga vodka from Jeffrey Cummings, director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The vodka was a gift from Larry Ruvo, co-founder and chairman of the Keep Memory Alive foundation. Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

The foundation and building is dedicated to Lou Ruvo, the well-known owner of The Venetian restaurant in Las Vegas, which opened in 1955 and closed after 43 years. A well-known person in “Sin City,” in 1992 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died two years later. 

Larry Ruvo, co-founder and chairman of the Keep Memory Alive foundation.

A year after his death his only son, Larry Ruvo, the successful and well connected senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, the largest spirits distributor in Nevada (the gift of Beluga vodka was from Larry Ruvo who was unable to attend the event), held a dinner that served as a memorial service with about 30 close friends and family. 

The Ruvos friends include billionaire casino owners, successful entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry, and world class entertainers. For example, the dinner was held at Spago restaurant in Caesars Palace, owned and operated by lengendary chef, Wolfgang Puck, a friend of Ruvo. At some point during the evening Ruvo said that John Paul DeJoria, a founder of Paul Mitchell hair products, announced he will donate $5,000 to Alzheimer’s research. By the end of the night about $35,000 was raised. 

Steve Lagos and guests received a tour of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

The impromptu fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research became a more formal annual dinner at Spago that eventually grew to a star-studded gala with the specific purpose of raising funds for a center for brain health and continuing its ground-breaking mission. Guests and performers for the April 2014 edition of the gala included Gloria Estefan, Jon Secada, Michael Caine, Quincy Jones, Carole King, Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Christopher Meloni and Steve Schirripa. The more than 800 auctions items ranged from a cruise on the Mediterranean to a private dinner inside Siegfried & Roy’s Jungle Palace with the meal cooked by Japanese Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto, to a songwriting and recording session with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. 

Lagos and Ruvo stress that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the foundation. 

Lagos was first introduced to Ruvo prior to the first formal dinner in 1995 through Bobby Baldwin, a casino executive, and a professional poker player. The two hit it off immediately. 

“He (Baldwin) said Larry was starting this charity and asked if I would get involved,” Lagos said. “I got involved and just really believed in it and stayed involved.”

At one of the early dinners, Lagos was thrown into action.

“In the world of jewelry he’s a celebrity. They know who Steven Lagos is,” Ruvo said. “I came up to him and said, ‘Steven I hate to put you on the spot but do you mind coming up here in front of 1,400 people and donate one of your great pieces?’”

Steve Lagos and Gloria Estefan, at the 2014 "Power of Love" gala, the annual Las Vegas fundraiser for the Keep Memory Alive foundation.

Lagos auctioned off a personal consultation at anyone’s home to design and make a bespoke piece of diamond jewelry with his own materials that he donated. The bidding was fierce and finally fell to two people and the price reached upwards of $250,000. Lagos agreed to make a piece for each bidder. 

“He was gracious and generous and sincere,” Ruvo said. “Every year he’s there financially and with jewelry. This year he created an iconic set of necklaces for ladies and cufflinks for the gentlemen resembling Frank Gehry’s structure (for large donors who purchased entire tables for the evening). He puts a lot of time in it and makes things that are very unique.”

Lagos said over the years he has raised and contributed about $1 million for the charity. He’s seen the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s in his family, not only with the person inflicted with the disease, but with the family members who provided care. He says with the aging of the Baby Boomer generation and people living longer, it’s going to get worse unless something is done. 

Lagos and invited guests were treated to a caviar and champagne reception at the "Event Center" of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Photo credit: Cashman Photos Enterprises, Inc.

“The whole family gets involved and it’s kind of debilitating for everybody,” Lagos said. “It’s really become an epidemic.”

Lagos is hesitant to discuss why he hasn’t better promoted his involvement with the charity. His reasons sway from not wanting to draw attention to himself to not finding the time to create a marketing program that truly reflects his belief in the charity. 

“This has been a personal thing and a company thing. We probably haven’t touted it as much as we should,” he said. “I try to participate fully with this particular charity. I try to be there and support what they’re doing. We’re believers in it. When you have a lucky life like I have and good fortune it’s important to give back.” 

But that is changing. Next year he will offer jewelry on his website dedicated to the Keep Memory Alive foundation with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the cause.

Over the years the relationship between Lagos and Ruvo also evolved. 

“At this point we’re personal friends,” Lagos said. “We see each other a couple of times a year. It’s his enthusiasm, it’s the power of love and I kid it’s the power of Larry. He is such an engaging person.”

For Ruvo the feeling is mutual and that is why he wanted to place Lagos on the Honor Wall. 

“We wanted to do something for Steven Lagos with his friends and some of our donors there,” Ruvo said. “Steven was just somebody I had to pay respect to and thank. No matter when I called him or what I asked him it’s always yes.”

For Lagos’ part, he says he is more interested in the cause rather the recognition. 

“He called me and said they wanted to do this. It’s really never been about that for me,” he said. “It’s about raising awareness and getting involved. They are doing wonderful work out there at the Cleveland Clinic. They’re going to find a cure and remedies. They already are.”

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes website.

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