MARCO ISLAND — For Allyson and Jim Richards, the reasons for supporting the American Cancer Society’s Imagination Ball couldn’t be more personal. The two are a couple, the second marriage for each, and both of them lost their first spouse to cancer.
“It’s a beast,” said Allyson of going through losing your partner to the disease, “and very tough for the kids, too.” Hers were five and 14 when her first husband died. Cancer in its various forms is so pervasive in our society, this is a cause everyone can get behind, said Dick Shanahan, co-chair of the event, along with his wife Debra.
“All of us have been touched by this. We’re here to finish the fight,” he said. “It’s a great honor to be asked to chair the ball,” said the man who has headed up virtually every organization on Marco Island.
The ball was held at the Marriott on Saturday evening, a beautiful venue for the event. Atttendees gathered on the terrace with the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico providing a backdrop, before heading in to survey the silent auction items and then proceed to the ballroom for dinner, live auction and dancing.
The gentlemen, black and white in their tuxedos, provided a backdrop for the ladies’ gowns, which of course were the sartorial focus of the event. Frank Keefer, attending with his wife Virginia or “Gingie,” did manage to stand out, if you looked down to his feet. He wore flipflops with his formal-wear, putting an island spin on fancy dress.
“What can I say, we’re Marco-ites,” he explained. NBC-2’s Stacey Deffenbaugh served as emcee for the event (wearing a long off-one shoulder black number).
“The American Cancer Society is the official sponsor of birthdays,” she said, highlighting the organization’s role in funding research to help more people survive a cancer diagnosis. “Today, two out of three survive, and we want to change that to three out of three.
That aspiration led to the name change to the Inspiration Ball imagining a world without cancer from the previous ACS galas on Marco, known as the Cattle Barons’ Ball and the Hope Ball.
And speaking of birthdays, said Deffenbaugh, “Tonight, we officially celebrate the 100th birthday of the American Cancer Society. Volunteer auctioneer Rick Gallo took the microphone after a dinner of surf and turf, followed by New York cheesecake, and an open bar, the better to lubricate the guests’ wallets.
Gallo started off his auctioneering job by spreading the workload around. Each table was taxed with appointing their own auctioneer, and putting the centerpieces up for bids. After this, the brief, four-item live auction began. After a slow start, bidding became spirited on the dinner for 10 sponsored by Carrie Darling Events, with catering by Artichoke & Co., and music from Stacey Allison, whose Stacey Allison Band provided the musical bed for the Inspiration Ball. The lot went for $6,000, and in a classic piece of charity auction fundraising, the underbidder went for the same deal, and the sponsors agreed to provide their gift twice.
Cancer survivor, FGCU student and avid runner spoke to the group, adding a personal note. Mike Tighe, resident manager at the Marco Island Marriott Florida Resort & Spa, filling in for general manager and Marco ACS board member Rick Medwedeff, who was called out of town, welcomed the guests to the hotel, and spoke of a staff member, a housekeeper, who is fighting breast cancer.
The Marriott was a wonderful host, said Lisa Honig, ACS executive director on Marco, freeing up the ACS folks to concentrate on the ball, and leaving food, beverage and venue concerns to the hotel. While attendance was lighter than in some years at 113, the event did well in brining in money for the cause, raising approximately $100,000, although Honig was still working with her volunteers on Monday morning to determine the exact number.
Next up on the calendar for the Cancer Society is the annual Relay for Life, which will be held April 13 and 14 at the Marco Island Charter Middle School.
“The ball was last week. Now we’re in relay mode,” said Lisa Honig.
To learn more, or contribute to the work of the ACS, call 239-642-8800, or go to www.cancer.org.