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Scene & Heard: A Very Southern Birthday

Plus: A celebrity sighting in an unlikely spot

BY August 30, 2017

The true value of some gifts isn’t measured in the purchase price. In this case, laughs and memories followed months of planning and grit—Southern grits. Naples financier Elliott Singer organized an extravagant birthday weekend in June for his wife, Retta Singer, by taking her back to her rural Mississippi roots. Not just a quaint party of two. No, that wouldn’t be the Singer style. Instead of packing the posh Port Royal Club with 200 people as he’s done in years past, Elliott invited 10 couples from Naples and Fort Myers to experience Retta’s past. Denise Cobb shared the journey with friends on Facebook and wrote upon arriving, “We’re Southern girls tonight!” The group took over three bed and breakfasts and went to dinner at a Southern plantation. The next morning, they ventured deep into the woods, where eight gospel singers greeted them at a chapel and sang Happy Birthday to Retta at the exact moment, 10:10, she was born. This sophisticated bunch had lunch at a produce store, where it was definitely BYOW. “We served wine at the produce store. That’s never happened before,” Elliott admitted with a laugh. He even organized a surprise visit by the mayor of Natchez and the woman who was Miss Franklin County when Retta was Little Miss Franklin County. “(Retta) was overcome with emotion and thrilled,” Elliott told me. “She couldn’t believe it.” Next, he said, Retta’s Southwest Florida friends “all went downtown to get their hair done.” The grand finale dinner was at “The Towers” antebellum mansion with former lead singer of The Spinners G.C. Cameron belting out soulful sounds with a nine-piece band. Certainly, it’s celebration that will be hard to top next year …

Students at the Naples Performing Arts Center spent June 11, the Sunday of the Tony Awards, learning from an actual Tony winner. My wife, Lori Oliver, brought in Janet Dacal, who starred in the original cast of In the Heights. The show won Best Musical in 2008 with lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Eight years later, he and the cast of Hamilton would win the same honor. Janet brought her dancing, singing and acting techniques from the Great White Way to share with NPAC students for the weekend. Her Cuban-American mother lives in Naples and invited Lori over for dinner and a Tony party. Needless to say, Lori was in heaven talking shop with Broadway’s best. Now, Janet, what about those Hamilton tickets from your buddy, Lin?

I always love hearing of the famous names who call our slice of the Gulfshore paradise home, whether for season or year-round. Most keep a low profile because this is their peaceful escape from a much more high-stress former life. On a visit not long ago to see J.R. Nocera, owner of Supreme Collision and Auto Center in downtown Naples, he casually told me, “Dave Wannstedt was just in here.” The former head football coach for the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears owns a home in Aqualane Shores. Nocera said you should expect to see Coach Wannstedt (pictured) appearing in one of his upcoming TV commercials. J.R. always surprises me. I pop in with a broken side-view mirror then magically 5 minutes later he fixes it. One glance at the wall of celebrities in his shop and you realize he knows more than chrome and cars.

After a long, hot, steamy summer, socially minded Southwest Floridians are more than ready to step back into party mode as we anxiously await the start of a festive social season. One of Lee County’s biggest, most exciting events, of course, is the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. But, it looks like change is in the air for the signature fundraiser that raises big money for SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., which provides grants to the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College.

Grab your most stylish handbag and pair it with your hottest heels and your cutest cocktail dress because “Becoming Cosmopolitan” is right around the corner on Oct. 5. The fundraiser for Community Cooperative always sells out fast and gets more sparkly and more creative each year. The theme is “Fire and Ice” for the 12th anniversary of the event, and according to Community Cooperative Development Director Stefanie Ink-Edwards, it will be an unforgettable night. “It’s a girls’ night out you won’t want to miss,” she says. Becoming Cosmopolitan happens at the historic Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the River District and is one of the super fun soirees that marks the start of the 2017-2018 party season.

Fans of the fest, now in its 10th year, may have noticed that last year there was a subtle shift toward Collier County, as at least half of the vintner dinners were hosted in Naples, or closer to Naples than Fort Myers. Still, for the past nine years, the main event, the Grand Tasting & Live Auction, has been hosted at the clubhouse at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club in Estero. Though it’s a bit of a trek for some diehard Fort Myers residents, folks traveling from the City of Palms are often known for chipping in on a limo and attending in groups (a smart idea when enjoying a wine-soaked afternoon). But, for the 2018 Grand Tasting & Live Auction, the migration to Collier County is complete, as the event moves from Estero to Quail West Golf & Country Club in Naples.

SWFL Children’s Charities President and Wine Fest Co-chair Elaine Hawkins explains, “Wine Fest has enjoyed nine great years at Miromar Lakes, yet the event has grown beyond what their clubhouse can hold,” she says. “Also, since Miromar has plans to develop the land on which the tent was installed last year, a new host venue was necessary. Fortunately, Quail West has stepped up to welcome us. We’re grateful and excited to partner with them for our 10th anniversary.”

Fort Myers attendees needn’t fret too much, as Quail West isn’t that far deep into Naples (only 15 miles further south from Miromar), and, no doubt, this shift will bring more Naples supporters to the event, which raised $3.2 million last year. But Lee County peeps might want to invest in a party bus to get them to the big to-do on March 3 (save the date!).

One Fort Myers resident headed way out of town in June when she hit New York City for the Tony Awards. Popular handbag designer Martine Cronin gifted Glenn Close, Sally Field and talk show host Wendy Williams with her artistic custom metal handbags. Tony Awards announcer Randy Thomas, formerly of Gulf Harbor, who now lives in Los Angeles, got a fabulous red Martine handbag that she showed off on the red carpet. Randy says, “My gorgeous Corvette cherry apple red evening bag is stunning and so cool! I love that some of her bags have a built-in phone charger, too.” Certainly an important feature when you’re at the Tonys getting selfies with the stars of Broadway.



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