Gala: David Lawrence supporters party with the tsars

Christine Williamson rises in delight when she learns she has won a live auction prize at the gala. Cheering her on, from left, are George Schrenk, Linda Diaz and Joanne Fowler.

Photo by submitted

Christine Williamson rises in delight when she learns she has won a live auction prize at the gala. Cheering her on, from left, are George Schrenk, Linda Diaz and Joanne Fowler.

Kathryn and Charles Rieger dance an American tune but they're dressed for an evening with the tsars, with Charles in Cossack shirt and hat, at the David Lawrence gala.

Photo by submitted

Kathryn and Charles Rieger dance an American tune but they're dressed for an evening with the tsars, with Charles in Cossack shirt and hat, at the David Lawrence gala.

Bernadette and Henry B. Watkins III arrive in a 'blizzard' of manufactured snow for the David Lawrence gala, set in a St. Petersburg, Russia, surrounding the Naples Yacht Club Jan. 15.

Photo by submitted

Bernadette and Henry B. Watkins III arrive in a "blizzard" of manufactured snow for the David Lawrence gala, set in a St. Petersburg, Russia, surrounding the Naples Yacht Club Jan. 15.

St. Petersburg, land of the tsars, was the port of call Jan. 15 for 323 David Lawrence Center partygoers who gathered in support of the community-based organization’s mission.

Valets, clad Cossack-style, directed arriving motorists “up the hill” through a veritable “snow blizzard” to the Naples Yacht Club’s entryway.

Once inside and pausing very briefly to cast glances at tables laden with auction item displays, they made a beeline for a massive sculptured ice fountain. From four flavored vodkas at the ready, the selected version was poured from on high and automatically chilled as it descended until filling awaiting glasses.

The center of considerable attention in a typical Russian fur hat, Debra De Grasse, a David Lawrence staff member, explained she had spent some months in Russia in the 90s as an exchange student and teacher. Bill O’Meara, his a handsome black fur number, and his wife, Joyce, compared notes on their impressions of Russia with a number of others who also sported souvenir chapeaux.

Some women wore authentic, embroidered items of Russian apparel. Brian Cobb showed up as a uniformed border guard. Jane Berger, who favored the pool area with its expansive ice sculptured caviar bar, quipped that she wore “all the Romanov jewels, but as it’s too warm, I’ve left my sables at the door.”

Passed canapes included eel tidbits served as guests circulated, with their choice of vodka or champagne and other wines, studying the auction displays. Prizes included a 19th century Russian cuff bracelet appraised at $25,000. They also reviewed the special “Wish List” designed to help meet the needs of the foundation’s most vulnerable clients, who need mental health or substance abuse help.

Following the hour-long reception, dining room doors opened to a dazzling scene of candlelit tables and sparkling table settings. As is her custom, Vicky Nolen presided over a table composed of close friends, among whom were some of the most supportive of female attendees.

An “Imperial Room,” with a table extending under glittering chandeliers, seated 40 of the top foundation supporters. The evening’s menu: an imperial crawfish salad, “The Great” veal chop entree topped with a gold ribbon, and “Divine Faberge” dessert filled with chocolate mousse. Butter patties were sprinkled with beads of black caviar.

Alan James’ Powerhouse band ensured a crowded dance floor; the group also accompanied Naples attorney and author Norbert Benecke, who sang evocative songs in Russian.

Winning live auction bids included $2,500 for a 1953 Chateau Margaux donated by Ray Ankner; a $3800 dining experience at the O’Mearas’ Port Royal home; and a California holiday and wine tasting at the Swanson Vineyard Cottage, which elicited double bids of $7,000 each.

Net event proceeds, including income from ticket sales at a minimum of $500 per person, rang in at excess of $350,000, according to Executive Director Carol Shaw.

For more than 40 years, the David Lawrence Center and Foundation has provided thousands of residents with affordable mental health and substance abuse services.

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