Our Year as Angels, Pirates and Heroes
That glamorous stretch from November through May when we get to party like it’s 1999 (except with a healthier return on capital gains). It’s what we do here. And from the looks of our Social Register, we do it pretty well.
Some artists work in oils, others in clay, but benefits, galas, dinners and cocktail parties are our mediums of choice. (We’re like Pollock, but we splatter crème fraîche and cash.) We attend in groups of hundreds, write checks worth thousands and make every last effort to look like a million. Again, it’s just what we do. From the gowns to the gift bags to a building with the name Golisano on it, we donned our best formal wear, pirate costumes and guayaberas to get a boots-on-the-ground report.
The Season took guests on a journey through space and time, fueled by little more than a checkbook and some Château Lafite. We traveled to China (courtesy of the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee), 1950s Havana (thanks to the David Lawrence Foundation), witnessed Magic Under the Mangroves (via the Conservancy of Southwest Florida), blasted into the future (with folks from the Fun Time Early Childhood Academy) and ended up Out of Africa (for Hope Hospice). And while many events were black tie, partygoers got to don sneakers for the YMCA, cowboy boots for both the Cattle Barons’ Ball and the Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance, and chapeaus for Hats in the Garden. We were called angels, heroes, pirates, honored, eligible and suspects (but never cheap). It was an exhausting but rewarding period that we can all be proud of.
Tom Golisano has made quite an impression on our neck of the woods in a fairly short period of time. His namesake Children’s Museum of Naples (C’mon) finally opened its doors to the public with what was arguably the most anticipated party of the year, the aptly named Dream Gala in March. It was blue. It was bejeweled. It was fabulous.
Although we couldn’t take our eyes off of Golisano’s significant other—tennis great Monica Seles (she looked incredible in her LBD)—the night belonged to local dancing superstar Shelia Smith Davis, who chaired the event. The lovely Ms. Davis found time for multiple wardrobe changes throughout the evening: each outfit setting just the right tone.
“Well, what do you think?” asked a beaming Davis, just moments before she started a flash mob. “Isn’t it fabulous?” The words had no sooner left her mouth when two people dressed as glistening wood nymphs walked by, headed for the massive faux banyan tree. A response felt unnecessary.
Of course, once we all got to wander through the dazzling displays inside the museum (there’s an igloo perfect for keeping champagne chilled), it was as if we all traveled back to the carefree days of our youth. (Luckily for area plastic surgeons, that phenomenon wore off as soon as we left the premises.) That’s probably why no one wanted to leave. Then again, after a decade in the making, who could blame anyone for wanting to savor the moment. The night raised $400,000 for the museum.
But while the Dream Gala was the season’s inaugural darling, the annual giant was—and will be for the foreseeable future—the Naples Winter Wine Festival (NWWF) in January. By now you’ve certainly heard all the wonderful details of the 2012 Naples Winter Wine Festival: 17 spectacular dinners by world-renowned chefs, one fabulous auction, $12.2 million raised (with the total now well over $100 million during the festival’s decade-plus). Great for the kids of Collier County, bad for grapes worldwide.
Attendees were keenly aware of the positive impact resveratrol can have on heart health. At one point, we counted 18 bottles of wine on one table (it sat 10), and that wasn’t even anywhere near the end of the auction. And more bottles came and went. By the way, there were almost 60 tables, so go ahead and do the math.
The auction was preceded by a luncheon on the grounds of The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort at Tiburón featuring chefs from each of the Ritz’s dining establishments (including the beach Ritz). But not surprisingly, most guests arrived late as the dinners the night before were too fabulous to leave early. One dinner had a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, another had Beatlemania, and they all had designated drivers. However, things turned all business as soon as the marching band arrived to announce the start of the auction. Surely few things are as welcoming as a marching band when you are coming off such celebrations.
But all was forgiven when the approximately 580 guests (including Chef de Cuisine Tony Manuano and Honored Vintner HRH Prince Robert of Luxembourg) gathered under the massive tent to partake in the bidding spectacle. It only seemed appropriate that special guests, The Lovin’ Spoonful, would show up and perform their classic Do You Believe in Magic, which was the year’s theme. The cause, the fantastic food and the fact that 2,500 wine glasses were used and reused over the course of the afternoon likely helped induce a spirit of giving so great guests competed over spending $240,000 on a 22-day vacation for two via private jet to China, Mongolia, Cambodia, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Moscow and Bordeaux with five-star accommodations, private tours and more. Actually, now that we think about it, that sounds like a pretty decent escape. We should have bought that.
Bill and Ann Bain snatched up a couple of auction items—the Masters and Ryder Cup package and a barge tour of Bordeaux. Martha and Jim Fligg got access to Elton John’s White Tie & Tiara party at his Windsor estate as well as center court tickets to Wimbledon. But our personal favorite was Paul Tamraz, who donated the spectacular 2012 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Roadster that sat on the lawn all day. That car wasn’t even available in the United States yet. He apparently couldn’t stand the thought of anyone but him owning it and paid $450,000 to get it back. Hey, it really was a nice car.
Of course, the NWWF is not the only wine festival in the area, and the Southwest Florida Food & Wine Fest continues to impress with its February auction and dinners. At the event’s auction at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club, hundreds gathered to raise money for the healthcare of children in Southwest Florida. We even got to mingle with the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders. Although in little black dresses for the cocktail portion of the afternoon, the girls went full-on cheerleader (pom-poms and all) once the auction heated up. Live auction items included everything from tickets to the Playboy Mansion to a package to the Monaco Grand Prix (and, of course, some wine). The action was frenzied and fantastic, and when the auction stalled at $1,751,000, the crowd stepped up and donated the rest in order to put it over the $2 million mark. It was a very special moment for auctioneer Scott Peterson and our own Kellie Burns, who served as emcee.
While those events might be the highlights of the season’s traditional calendar, another great party of the year had no cause, no beneficiary, no auction items. In fact, as far as we know, it was a one-time-only event, 50 years in the making: Shelly Stayer’s 50th birthday party at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.
When people say that parties have themes, you tend to think of a few scattered beach balls and a related mix on the iPod. Stayer’s Woodstock theme could have only been more authentic if 100,000 more people crashed. There were hippies and tents and VW buses and psychedelic lights and trippy music and a guest list that was over the top. The invitations featured a full-sized reproduction of the original Woodstock poster, a faux-joint, patchouli incense, while the RSVP was cigarette paper that they had to roll up and send back. When guests—all in full costume—arrived at the Ritz, they were greeted by 30 actors and actresses hired to portray Woodstock concert-goers. Stayer, herself, was in a stunning psychedelic jumpsuit from Project Runway designer JR Martinez of Miami. The matching jacket lit up. Literally. Husband, Ralph, just had to smile.
Once guests had gotten their fair share of hits from the hookah bar, they looked for their name on cards tucked in a sea of grass (nice touch) before heading into a dining room decorated to look like a Grace Slick flashback. As I sat down at my assigned table, I couldn’t help but notice the homeliest woman I had ever seen sitting at the next table. It turned out to be Boomer Esiason, former NFL quarterback and current football analyst on CBS.
He was decked out in authentic hippie regalia (yay, fringe!), including a long blonde wig and headband. Before the night was through, however, our tablemate and jeweler to the stars, Michael Greene, whose long hair days were well behind him, put the wig to better use. Other guests included Shahid Khan, new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars; Clark Bunting, president of the Discovery Channel; and about 80 friends and family who flew in from Sheboygan, Wisc., home of the Stayer’s company, Johnsonville Sausage.
After dinner, guests were moved into the concert area where they were treated to the rock stylings of the Wayne Foster Group, a 14-piece band flown in from Los Angeles just for this party. You would think that would be enough, but less than an hour into the music Buddy Valastro, also known as the Cake Boss from TLC, arrived with the biggest birthday cake you have ever seen—decorated to look like Max Yasgur’s farm. He then signed copies of his latest book for everyone. He even took to the dance floor to show off his moves (as did Esiason), but things really heated up when the touring cast of the Broadway musical Memphis crashed the party. We left at 12:30, but we’re told the action went til 3 a.m. Lets hope she turns 50 again next year!
After that you’d think there’d be nothing worth remembering from last season, but another mesmerizing lady stood tall(ish) with a party all her own. Retirement parties tend to be dull, humorless affairs with disinterested guests sampling sheet cake and cheap wine. That’s not exactly how things went down for the incomparable Myra Daniels. The Phil alchemist and frontwoman got a multi-day celebration, culminating with a star-studded concert featuring not only the Naples Philharmonic (of course) with the triumphant return of conductor Keith Lockhart, but also Broadway stars Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara and soprano Harolyn Blackwell. The black-tie affair featured a surprise performance by multi-platinum- selling vocalist Michael Feinstein. There were even video tributes from Bill Cosby, Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka!
Afterwards, guests mingled in the Phil’s lobby, sipping champagne and sampling desserts as they reminisced about Myra’s determination, dedication and work ethic. “I don’t think any of us grasp the magnitude of what she has done for us,” we overheard one woman say while waiting for the valet. It’s funny how people can always express themselves better while waiting for their car.
The season unofficially began with the 53rd annual NCH Hospital Ball at The Ritz- Carlton, Naples. The “This Is My Hospital…” theme went off without a hitch, thanks to co-chairs Patrick Trittler and Reg Buxton and a committee filled with people who know how to manage things in a crisis.
Our favorite part? Honorary chairperson, Thelma Hodges, spoke of her experience of being one of the hospital’s first three employees a whopping 56 years ago.
“This is my hospital? They stole my line!” said Hodges, getting a big laugh from the crowd. (Although not as big a laugh as when she mentioned they used to occasionally accept animals as patients. Hey, it was a different time.)
The unofficial end of the season tends to be the annual Yabba Island Pirate Ball to benefit the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples—one of the few opportunities local men get to use mascara. This year’s event didn’t score the bounty of years past primarily because so much effort was put into the opening of the museum and the Dream Gala. A lot of potential pirates felt a lack of trade winds by the long season and felt they had already done their part when time came to give to the museum’s main event. Even so, the Baroness Mimy von Schreiner-Valenti, president of the museum’s guild, along with chairs Jennifer Urness and Donna Luccerelli, did a masterful job of keeping a mob of pirates from pillaging the rest of Fifth Avenue South. Frankly, when the night was over and we were taking off our hoop earrings and applying makeup remover, we were already dreaming of the season to come.
“I had my hand on her knee the whole time. I had no idea it was Beyoncé. But that explains why Jay-Z was looking at me like that… I just thought she was some hot chick…”
“What do you say to someone newly divorced? I hope you did well...”
“For a man, I’m pretty particular about my eyeshadow…”
“If Wolfgang Puck doesn’t show up soon, I’m stealing his gift bag…”
“I heard they’re bankrupt. No!?
That’s why they’re selling off assets left and right… I just can’t believe that.
Well, I’m not saying it is true, I’m just saying that’s what I heard…”