PHOTOS: Cancer Society’s inaugural Hope Ball a success

Candlelit walkways, spectacular auction items and the chance to meet a best-selling novelist made the American Cancer Society’s inaugural Hope Ball a night to remember.

The sold out crowd of nearly 150 guests arrived to enjoy cocktails at the Marco Island Historical Museum, while they perused tables of enticing auction offerings, which included tickets to the “American Idol” finale, VIP tickets to a “Dancing with the Stars” taping, autographed guitars from Bruce Springsteen and country crooner Kenny Chesney and the chance to get behind the wheel of an Indy race car at Mario Andretti’s driving school, to name a few.

“Our theme is one-of-a-kind items,” said Natalie Kirstein, a board member of the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Marco Island Unit.

Guests seemed happy to wait in line for the chance to have their picture taken and shake hands with author Nicholas Sparks, who has penned 17 books including “The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle” and “A Walk to Remember.”

Sparks was a personal guest of ACS board members Cari and Todd Wagner. He donated his time for the evening and autographed books for guests.

“This is a wonderful program and a wonderful place,” he said of his visit. Sparks has been personally impacted by cancer, which took the life of his sister, Danielle, in 2000.

In previous years, the Marco Island ACS unit held the well-known signature event called the Cattle Barron’s Ball. This year, executive director Melissa Felice and board members decided to hold a black-tie gathering, the island’s only formal event, instead.

“We wanted to try something different,” Felice said.

The move to a formal evening clearly was well received by guests.

“Obviously, Mr. Sparks helped,” noted ACS board member Bill Dean.

Guests hurried to add their names to some of the auction items, some with minimum bids of $2,000 or more.

“There are wonderful things,” exclaimed guest Louise Jean, who had her eye on a shopping trip to Chicago.

Money raised at the event will be used for scholarships, counseling and to send children with cancer to a summer camp in North Florida

“This (the Hope Ball) brings awareness that we have children on the island that have cancer. We’re here to serve the community from babies to the elderly.”

Felice hoped the event would raise in excess of $50,000.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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