By Julia Prodis Sulek for Lookiloos and Scene Magazine, photos by Lookiloos photographer Desiree Northend
Charmaine Warmenhoven was in high school in 1964 when news of the notorious murder of Kitty Genovese on the streets of New York spread across the country, a shocking story because even though many heard her screams, apparently no one did a thing to help.
Charmaine was fascinated, though, less about the bystanders who did nothing and more about the idea of those who “try to do something.”
With a strong foundation as a woman of faith and a psychology degree from Princeton, reaching out to others in need has become a guiding principle of her life as a philanthropist and educator of special needs children.
“It’s part of our value system,” she says. “You are meant to provide service to others. I’ve been doing so ever since I can remember.”
From the graceful Monte Sereno home surrounded by acres of gardens that she shares with her husband, Network Appliance board chairman Dan Warmenhoven, the couple open their doors to fundraisers benefiting causes ranging from cancer research to local arts groups to Catholic charities. In June, she is hosting the Silicon Valley Heart Gala for 250 to raise money for the American Heart Association. With Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz chairing the event, the nonprofit is expecting the guest list to include some of the valley’s tech luminaries. If all goes well, the charity hopes to raise more than half a million dollars (maybe a million, dare they hope) at this single event.
“Dan and I feel we’ve been given a lot, and we need to give and to share,” she says. “It’s more than a habit. It’s a lifestyle.”
And Keri Janssen, CEO of the Silicon Valley American Heart Association, couldn’t be more grateful.
“They are very down to earth and very dedicated to making a difference in the community,” Janssen says. “Opening your home to an event is totally different than giving money. They are dedicated to the mission and the cause and have been for over 10 years.”
Hosting the fundraiser at a home rather than a hotel is much more intimate, she says. Besides, “who wouldn’t want to see the Warmenhoven home?”
A winding driveway leads you past oak trees and a sunken Japanese tea garden to the grand estate atop a hill. A 17th-century wishing well and a stone gazebo adorn the front garden that overlooks the lights of the valley below.
The back yard, with terraces surrounding a pool and cabana house, will be the setting for the June party. A saxophonist will play during cocktail hour from the balcony, and tables will be set up around the pool. Each guest will be given a candle to light, representing heart disease survivors, and float them in the pool.
“It will be the feel of a romantic, starry night,” Janssen says.
The causes Warmenhoven supports are close to her heart. As a child, her mother was a concert pianist, and she was a dancer. As an adult, she has served on the boards of Ballet San Jose and the Montalvo Arts Center.
With her father in the military, her family moved around a lot, she says, and going to Catholic church on Sundays wherever they happened to live “felt like family and it gave me a sense of stability and belonging.”
After teaching disabled children for a number of years, she went on to work for the Catholic Diocese in Santa Clara County, helping people with disabilities feel included in church life. Just last year, the Warmenhovens hosted a garden party for the Knights of St. John, an organization ounded to take care of wounded soldiers but that now donates frequently to children’s hospitals.
Charmaine’s father died of cancer when she was 13, and the Warmenhovens have been supporters of the American Cancer Society’s Cattle Barons’ Ball each year.
“I do a variety of different things,” she says, “but they all make sense to me.”
She and her husband met sitting next to each other on a plane on their way back to Princeton from the West Coast when she was a junior and he was a senior.
“He asked me to dinner,” she says, “and we were married two years later.”
After moving around the East Coast with his jobs for IBM and HP and hers in teaching, they arrived in Santa Clara Valley in the early 1980s. In the mid-1990s, Dan Warmenhoven became president and CEO of Network Appliance, employing 45 people at the time. It has since grown to 8,000 employees worldwide.
The Warmenhovens moved from their house in Saratoga, which their son and daughter-in-law now own, to the Monte Sereno estate three years ago. Even though the house is grand, the rooms feel intimate. And she loves the indoor/outdoor flow of the house, which is perfect for entertaining.
She enjoys planning gatherings for her family and close friends, but she leaves the big parties to the pros. She has her list of favorite local party planners, florists and caterers.
“I just sit back and applaud,” she says, “and open the door.”
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