Magnolia Ball nets $2.6-million for Moffitt

Published May 11, 2007

"Help, hope ... and later, Huey."

So began Ed Droste at the 14th annual Magnolia Ball which blew away Tampa philanthropy records by raising an unprecedented $2.6-million in one night for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

Even the most veteran fundraisers were awed by Saturday night's tally from 830 black-tie supporters at A La Carte Pavilion. Almost every expense was underwritten or donated, netting $1-million more than last year's gala.

Hooters founder and Moffitt Foundation vice chair Droste, noting it was his first wedding anniversary, stood at a podium in the center of the ballroom surrounded by 80 tables topped in champagne pink sateen and towering vases of magnolias. (The Moffitt facility is located on Magnolia Drive.)

The first standing ovation followed the benediction by Monsignor Laurence Higgins, who is retiring next month after 49 years leading his flock at St. Lawrence.

The second was for Moffitt patient Richard Spayde who fought acute leukemia with 100 transfusions and two stem cell transplants. Spayde's emotional testimony credited Moffitt staff for "saving lives, families and futures."

Moffitt deputy director Dr. Jack Pledger introduced Nick Valvano, CEO of the Jimmy V Foundation, named for his brother, the basketball coach and ESPN commentator who died of cancer at age 47.

The crowd hushed to hear Jimmy Valvano's 1993 farewell speech when he beseeched, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

Those words became the V Foundation motto, said Nick, as he announced a $400, 000 matching gift.

It took all of five minutes for auctioneer Gary Connors to nail $1.8-million more in pledges.

First up: beer baron Tom Pepin who grabbed RV czar Don Wallace and ran to the podium to commit $100, 000 each.

Seconds later, Georgeann and Steve Matzkin of Dental Care Alliance, quietly offered $200, 000. Jason Kuhn of Kuhn Honda was next with $300, 000.

Moffitt fever was contagious: $50, 000 pledges included those from ball chairmen Celia and Jim Ferman, Betty and Mel Sembler, Mary Jane and Ron Campbell, Marty and Ted Couch, Pam and Les Muma.

The givers kept on giving, at $25, 000, $10, 000, $5, 000, down to $500 levels.

During dinner of filet of beef and pan-seared lobster, 15 live auction items, projected on six huge screens, brought in $156, 000, thanks to Masonite International Corp.

The company tacked $5, 000 on each item that sold for its listed value, adding up to a $50, 000 donation.

Guests got program books by FedEx early enough to study the auction offerings.

For instance, a five-day excursion to Germany and Austria included travel and accommodations, as well as a 2008 Mercedes-Benz E550 to drive while on the trip. The package sold for $10, 000, plus Masonite's $5, 000.

Four hours after they arrived, guests were rewarded with rock 'n' roll by Huey Lewis and the News. One of their hits sang out like a Moffitt mission: I Want a New Drug.



Friday: Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary fashion show luncheon; 11 a.m.; Rusty Pelican, 2425 N Rocky Point Drive; $50; 226-0055, ext. 402.

Saturday: Studio TGH, Tampa General Hospital Foundation's 10th annual Moments in Time gala; 7:30 p.m.; Hyatt Regency Tampa; $250; 844-7273.

Saturday: Dance the Night Away benefits American Red Cross of Tampa Bay; 70s attire; 6:30 p.m.; Pepin Hospitality Center, 4121 N 50th St.; $125; 348-4820, ext. 869.

May 18: It's in the Genes gala benefits Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE); 7 p.m.; Florida Aquarium; $100, adults; $30, children 13 and under; (727) 871-0366.

May 19: Barnyard Boogie, Cattle Barons' Ball benefits American Cancer Society; 7 p.m.; Port of Tampa Cruise Terminal No. 3; $350; 254-3630.

May 19: The Lion King, eighth annual Storybook Ball benefits Ronald McDonald House Charities; 6 p.m.; A La Carte Pavilion; $300; 258-6430.