“Ted Nugent is on his way,” Brenda Melton leaned in to tell me at the end of a record-setting night for the Celebrity Martini Glass Auction, which this year benefited PAWS Assistance Dogs. The CMGA founder is friends with Nugent’s wife, Shemane. The Nugents cut out early from a private “wild game” party and arrived in the parking lot of Artis—Naples for an impromptu meet and greet. No guitar. No stage. No problem. The 68-year-old rocker said he just had to meet a young man who sacrificed greatly in service to our country.
CMGA honored Marine Lance Cpl. Tim Donley, who lost his legs because of a bomb explosion in Afghanistan. While guests of the late March event were still enjoying the Norman Love dessert reception and dancing the night away, about 15 people gathered around Nugent in the parking lot while he spoke to the Marine. Donley, a musician himself, sat in a wheelchair next to his wife, whom he met while at Walter Reed Hospital. Nugent dropped multiple four-letter words while describing his disdain for the government, mainstream media and academia. He told a story of being scolded by a military officer for carrying a gun on a trip to Fallujah during the war in Iraq. “I carry my gun when I go out to get bread,” Nugent joked. The Nugents took pictures with the small crowd gathered and cuddled with several golden retriever service dogs. Nugent is hitting the road this month for his Make America Rock Again summer U.S. 2017 tour. It stops at Bonita Springs’ Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center on July 11 and 12—and don’t bet against more political talk in parking lots.
Surprises opened and closed this year’s Celebrity Martini Glass Auction as well. Auction lot 1 not only featured a glass inspired by the Broadway hit Hamilton and autographed by the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but also included two “producer seats” to the hit show. Auctioneer Scott Robertson proudly announced the late addition to the lot. Patty Baker used her New York connections to procure the signature of the star and graciously tossed in the Hamilton tickets to drive up the bidding. Since retiring in 2000 as the president of Kohl’s Department Stores, Jay Baker and his wife, Patty, have donated an astounding $150 million to charity—much of it spearheading Naples projects and philanthropy. They proved at the CMGA they’re not finished giving. They gave $70,000 for two golden retriever puppies to be designated in their name and go through the training to be placed with disabled veterans. One dog will be named Hamilton, of course. The Bakers bid the highest, $40,000, for the Hamilton glass and then turned around and again gave up the show tickets for auction. The pair of special producer seats fetched another $15,000 courtesy of Brenda and Phil Melton raising their paddles.
Fittingly, the bidding for newly retired AC/DC guitarist Cliff Williams’ martini glass had a classic moment. The bidder, a woman by the way, offered $13,000—if the model holding the glass would throw in the AC/DC shirt she was wearing. No disrobing needed, but it did lead to the biggest laugh of the night.
There were plenty belles of the ball at the Southwest Florida Heart Ball last March. On-hand at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa to raise awareness and funds for the American Heart Association were co-chair Liz Allbritten sparkling in silver, Kellie Burns of NBC2 rocking the house in a stunning red gown, Home-Tech CFO Sonya Sawyer looking fab in a cranberry-colored frock, and former The News-Press publisher Carol Hudler looking better than ever with a blond ’do and a deep-green gown. But, it was Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and Ginny Henderson’s adorable 2-year-old granddaughter, Virginia Ann (left), who stole the show. Little Virginia Ann was born with a heart defect, and when Mayor Henderson took the stage to tell her story, the usually stalwart leader teared up. Suddenly, Virginia Ann ran to the stage and into her grandpa’s loving arms. She then grabbed the microphone and entertained the 450 guests with cute toddler noises. As she stole the hearts of all the guests, donations poured in for the “Virginia Ann” portion of the cash call raising much-needed funds for the American Heart Association.
Emotions and enthusiasm were both high at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest last February at Miromar Lakes Golf and Country Club. Co-chair Christin Collins tells me that the vibe was absolutely electric that day: “The energy in the room was incredible this year—and Debbie Toler, my amazing co-chair, and I were so grateful, because our Fund-A-Cause, mental and behavioral health for children, is still a somewhat taboo subject.” Quinn Cavanaugh spoke movingly and courageously about the suicide of her teenage son, and Christin reports that bidding paddles shot up to raise much-needed money. The Fund-A-Cause was up to $815,000 when Jeff Lagarce found himself in a bidding war for a trip to the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta. At one point, Jeff got on the microphone and said he could always watch the Masters from his living room—but what the generous donor really wanted to do was take the Fund-A-Cause to the million-dollar mark. And with a pledge of $185,000, he did it. “It was such a great moment,” Christin says. “The truth is, 1 out of 5 kids between the ages of 14 and 18 in our community deal with mental health issues, and sadly, they go undiagnosed and untreated. The Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest just made great strides in building a program to help these kids.” In all, $3.2 million was raised for local charities—big kudos to ALL involved.
The Harlem Globetrotters called on a Fort Myers football hero to surprise fans in Estero. Former NFL defensive end Jevon Kearse (right) joined the Globetrotters on the floor of Germain Arena last February. The Globetrotter stars pulled out some of their famous antics to throw Jevon a touchdown pass and then delighted the fans by re-enacting the play in slow motion. The North Fort Myers High alum told me he’s staying busy with the Jevon Kearse Foundation. He even brought a busload of about 60 kids to see the Globetrotters. At 40 years old, he’s a towering 6-feet-4 and still physically ripped. He told me he didn’t do much rehearsing for his role with the Globetrotters. It’s great to see Jevon still active in the community now that his playing days in the NFL and the University of Florida are finished. Wouldn’t you know it; the shirt I threw on before going to the game was a University of Georgia Bulldog polo. Nothing like a friendly rivalry to spark conversation.
From the fundraisers of spring to the boys of spring—spring training in Southwest Florida brought hordes of fans to Fort Myers to see the Boston Red Sox, and one young intern with the team had a local connection. Matthew Thome, a recent graduate of Carthage College in Wisconsin, had the perfect place to stay during his internship at JetBlue Park, as his aunt and godmother is WINK News anchor Lois Thome. “He’s a smart kid and a really hard worker,” Lois says. “I definitely see him going places.” Matthew, who studied public relations and sports communication, is hoping to get a full-time position with the team at its Boston headquarters.
While her nephew was busy with baseball, Lois emceed the Young Artists Awards at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre last March, where talented area young people vie for scholarship money to pursue their dreams in the arts. This nonprofit program has been advocating for student singers, musicians and actors for nearly 15 years, and this year was no exception. While all the kids stunned the audience and judges with their talent, keep your eye on the ultra-talented Callie Atkinson of Cypress Lake High School, who first wowed guests performing with the CLHS A Cappella group, then blew them away singing a show tune from Chaplin: The Musical, and lastly had them in stitches with a comedic monologue. As a result, Callie walked off with her arms full of trophies: Best Contemporary Voice, Best in Drama, plus Best Overall for both the judge’s choice and the audience choice. Not bad for a 17-year-old!
Chad Oliver is a prize-winning anchor for NBC2 News. Stephanie Davis is a freelance writer and columnist known for her passion for downtown Fort Myers.