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Scene & Heard: Mike Ditka Surprise Visit

Plus: A Bonita Springs resident ends up on the TODAY show



 

You never know whom you’ll run into in Naples. A crawfish boil invite led to a chance meeting between Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Ditka and young sports fan Vance Landry. Vance and his dad, Bryan Landry, were invited along with several other Little League baseball families in March to the home of Troy Melancon, who just happens to live next door to Ditka. “He’s tough as nails, no doubt, but I think it was nice for him to walk over and take a picture,” Bryan told me. Landry said the coach talked about losing money playing golf that day, then winning it back playing the game of gin. See? Iron Mike does have a softer side.

Supporters of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida dressed in eco-chic attire and raised a record $1.9 million this March during Magic Under the Mangroves. I was honored to emcee the 14th annual gala alongside auctioneer Scott Robertson, who took a leap of faith early in the night. “The organizers did the math and realized $250,000 would endow an internship [at the Conservancy] forever,” Scott told me. “They said,  ‘We may not get it, but I think it’s important we offer the opportunity.’” Dolph von Arx put his paddle in the air first. “Then I whirled around and saw Patty and Jay Baker,” Scott remembered. Edie Andrews also raised a paddle to give $250,000. The rest of the room followed with gifts totaling more than $700,000 to invest in the Conservancy’s internship program. Then came the dinner, courtesy of green-certified caterers who travel to Naples all the way from Washington, D.C. Chef Henry Dinardo brings down his Windows Catering team exclusively for this event. “Henry and I made Naples our winter home in large part because of the area’s natural beauty,” explained Carol Dinardo, chair of Magic Under the Mangroves and Conservancy board member. It proved to be a magical night indeed.

Sandi Moran from Naples is making her mark on the Great White Way. In the last three years she has co-produced six musicals, including two currently on Broadway: Once on This Island and Anastasia. I saw firsthand at the Broadhurst Theatre in March why Anastasia received two 2017 Tony nominations, one for costume design and one for Mary Beth Peil’s performance as Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The story weaves an enchanting tale surrounding the fate of Anastasia Romanov, the Grand Duchess of Russia, during the Bolshevik Revolution. “International interest has been huge,” Sandi told me. She’s confident the show will have a long run on Broadway and beyond. “[Anastasia] is opening in Germany and Spain in the fall.” Proof that Sandi has a keen eye for musical theater and smart investment. 

It was cheers to 10 years at March’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which celebrated the decade by raising a whopping $2.9 million dollars for SWFL Children’s Charities. The main event at Quail West Golf and Country Club was a glittering affair with beautiful billowing drapes decorating the ceiling of the main ballroom as many guests showed up in shades of silver and white to drink wine and bid high and often.

And while the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival is a large-scale fundraiser with lots of moving parts, sometimes the smaller communities can come together to make a huge impact, too. In fact, Gulf Harbor Golf & Country Club is one such community. The annual Love Your Neighbor event that happens there every year brought in a record $443,000 for the Heights Foundation in February. Then, a few weeks later, residents of Gulf Harbor came together on a Monday night for Alzheimer’s research with An Affair to Remember. It included fab auction items like a Useppa Island Getaway with Cliff Williams (bassist for AC/DC) and his wife, Georganne, on their private yacht; a trip to Cuba with chef Gloria Jordan; and more. The guest list twinkled—think Norman and Mary Love, Vicki and Richard Pitbladdo, Debra and Larry Hobbs, Joe and JoAnn Catti, and more…

There’s no doubt folks in this area are giving to good causes when an event as simple and lovely as an afternoon tea can bring in more than $65,000. Benefiting PACE Center for Girls, the Grande Dames Tea also celebrated its 10th anniversary in March, as Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre was standing room-only and filled with ladies in gorgeous hats and fascinators. Sadly, two of the grande dames to be honored this year, Dena Geraghty and Betty Sanders, had both passed away just before the tea. Still, Dena would have been so proud of her eldest daughter, Kelly Price, for sitting in her place—and Betty’s sister-in-law, Deanna Sanders Hansen, did a lovely job of speaking for Betty. Artist Barbara Yeomans rounded out the group of honorees and dispensed great advice to the PACE girls, urging them to follow their dreams. 

An unexpected March trip to New York City created a whirlwind series of unforgettable moments for Bonita Springs resident Christina Jordan and her teenage daughter, Kat (pictured). “I’m exhausted!” Christina said to me afterward. First, Christina received notification while at work that she’d won the Hamilton ticket lottery and scored two free seats to the toughest ticket in all of New York. As if that weren’t unbelievable enough, she then got to tell the tale to a national audience live in Rockefeller Plaza. She was picked from the crowd at the TODAY show for a live interview. “I got on the phone, collected frequent flyer miles from family, surprised (Kat) at school, and then we hopped on a plane,” she told Hoda Kotb that cold New York morning. After that, producers selected Christina and Kat to take part in a trivia game on Kathie Lee and Hoda’s fourth hour of TODAY. The two won $100. Oh, and they also met American figure skater Adam Rippon during the trip. Not too shabby for Kat’s first time in New York.

Auctioneer Scott Robertson is known for donning wildly colorful vests, but at this year’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest in March, he took it up a notch. “Since it was the 10th anniversary,” he says, “I found a silver sequined jacket that was so full of bling, it looked like it came out of Liberace’s closet.” When he was auctioning off a luxurious getaway to one of guest vintner Barbara Banke’s Jackson Family wineries, the bidding got up to $100,000. Scott called out to Barbara from the stage, “Since this trip is so popular, how about we auction off TWO of them.” Barbara generously agreed—but only if Scott would sell the jacket off his back for the cause. A man of his word, Scott offered his sparkling blazer to the highest bidder. Can you believe the bidding started off at $1,000 and climbed all the way to $20,000? And not only that: The lucky winner was Ed Bell, the father of 12-year-old Jack Bell, a cancer survivor who was a patient at Golisano Children’s Hospital (one of the wine fest’s primary beneficiaries) when he was diagnosed with liver cancer as a toddler. Jack is healthy and cancer-free—and his dad is the proud owner of a jacket that could outshine a disco ball.

 

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