Reaching for the stars: ACS holds ‘Imagination Ball’ at Marriott

Lance Shearer

This may be their last gala in a tent. The Imagination Ball, the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event, was held Saturday evening in the beach pavilion behind the JW Marriott.

While the pavilion is fancier than many tents, with crystal chandeliers, air conditioning and glass doors, and literally sits directly on the beach, by later this year it will be struck, with future events taking place in the nearly completed Lanai Tower and upgraded meeting spaces.

Speed painter Tim Decker after completing his portrait of Frank Sinatra. The American Cancer Society's 2018 Imagination Ball, dedicated to the fight against cancer, took place Saturday night at the JW Marriott.

Attendees dined on surf and turf, enjoyed the sounds of Sunjammer with Stacey Allison, and were treated to an exhibition of accelerated artistic accomplishment by “performance speed painter” Tim Decker. Not listed on the program, Decker’s performance was introduced at the beginning of the live auction.

The two canvases he turned out, in about five minutes each, were then auctioned off as the first two live auction items, and raised $10,000 for the fight against cancer. He painted a portrait that turned out to be Frank Sinatra, adding the “old blue eyes” as the finishing touch, and followed it up with a canvas depicting Lady Liberty. Decker used two brushes throughout his frenetic paint daubing, although he used a fingertip for the blue eye pigment, and to add an extra degree of difficulty, painted the Statue of Liberty portrait upside down (the image, not the artist).

TJ Boone, right, presents the Grado Award to Ray and Louise Jean. The American Cancer Society's 2018 Imagination Ball, dedicated to the fight against cancer, took place Saturday night at the JW Marriott.

“He’s very talented,” said Imagination Ball chair Debra Shanahan. “Every eye was on him as he painted.”

“We wanted to try something different, to keep the event fresh,” added ACS Marco Island senior development manager, distinguished events Sue Olszak. Additional live auction items, that were listed in the program, included a week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, an exclusive preview of the “adult exclusive” areas of the Lanai Tower when it opens, a dinner for up to 30 at Verdi’s, and a dinner and penthouse suite package at the Hilton. In the best charity auction tradition, auctioneer Rick Gallo put the arm on Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa executive chef Corey Hepburn, who graciously provided two of the prizes, for the winning bidder and the under-bidder.


The evening’s signature sponsor was Corrie Grado, whose long history with the ACS on Marco Island goes back 35 years to when, after two years volunteering out of the society’s Naples office, opened the Marco Island branch. She and her late husband John established the Grado Award, given out annually at the ball honoring “members of our community who embody the spirit of giving.”

This year’s Grado Award was presented by Marco Eagle publisher TJ Boone to Ray and Louise Jean. Theme for the evening was “Reach for the Stars to Find a Cure.” Television news anchor Stacey Deffenbaugh of NBC-2 served as emcee for the event, reprising the role she has taken on for years.

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. One notable exception was Curt Koon, whose formalwear included wild orange tiger-striped trousers, with matching orange vest and bowtie. Wife Jacquie accessorized with orange jewelry.   

Organizers did not have a fund-raising total for the evening, which last year raised around $250,000, but were confident in saying yes, they brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fight against cancer.

Next up on the calendar for the Cancer Society is the annual Relay for Life, which will be held April 7 at Veterans’ Community Park.

To learn more, or contribute to the work of the ACS, call 239-642-8800, or go to