That Was The Year That Was

With oil topping out at $112 a barrel, million dollar galas rocked Houston's charity scene in 2014

Millon dollar galas and oil at $112 a barrel rock 2014 charity scene

With oil prices tanking, only the bravest soothsayer would try to predict the fortunes of H-Town's non-profits in 2015. But with the hindsight of the Monday morning quarterback, we can all take comfort in what a really great year 2014 was for the arts, medicine, education, the homeless and more.

A look back at major fundraisers covered in CultureMap during the past 12 months reveals a wealth of non-profits enjoying the generosity of a broad spectrum of the citizenry and reaping the benefits of what once was $112 a barrel oil. Of the scores of fundraisers covered, more than two dozen reached or surpassed the $1 million mark with a handful skating beyond $2 million. (These are figures reported at the time of the events and represent gross revenues.)

February bidding often

It's no surprise that as the populace recovers from the big spending of the holidays and as the non-profits are slow to ramp up the party action, January is typically a socially sleepy month. As a result, no charity hit the seven-figure milestone in 2014 until February.

Discovery Green's "Gala on the Green," chaired by Soraya and Scott McClelland, saw $1.1 million in greenbacks added to the downtown park's coffers. Also topping out at $1.1 million was the American Heart Association annual "Heart Ball," chaired by Carolyn and Frank Gese.

Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Services joined the seven-figure ranks with a take of $1 million at its "Wizard of Oz" themed gala, chaired by Andrea and David Stein, Gail and Gary Swartz and Judy and Ronnie Yambra, held at the Westin Galleria Hotel.

The Junior League of Houston rang in the Chinese New Year with three consecutive nights for the 66th annual Charity Ball which cumulatively raised $1 million. Taking bows for that record result were league president Marian Hearne Hilpert, Charity Ball chair Whitney Anderson Walsh and underwriting chair Catherine Beaton Smith.

Bidding high in March

Even the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo gets into the mega fundraising. Consider the Rodeo Champion Wine Auction, only one aspect of the multi-million dollar fundraiser that is the rodeo. The wine auction alone brought in a record $1.7 million with John Eddie Williams, Paul Somerville, Tom and Mimi Dompier and Joe Van Matre making the winning bid of $230,000 on the top lot of wines.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science scored more than $1.1 million with its "Shaken . . . Not Stirred" black-tie gala at the museum, earning high praise for chairs Mark Kelly and Maynard Holt.

April, the jackpot month

This often perfect spring month enjoys more galas and more million dollar events than any other time of the year. Leading the April charge was the ever-popular "A Celebration of Reading" which proved once again to be a cash cow for literacy programs as the annual event featuring top-name authors brought in $2.9 million. The  event at the Hobby Center was chaired by Maria and Neil Bush, who last year stepped in as head of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

The Houston Symphony Ball ranks tops on our list, not only for most money raised but also for the most ingenious setting. Kudos to chairs Cora Sue and Harry Mach and Joella and Steve Mach for the evening that brought in $2.6 million while transforming Jones Hall into one of the most elegant gala settings in recent memory.

The Memorial Hermann Foundation continued its track record of mega-fundraising with its gala held at the Hilton Americas-Houston. Chaired by Dana and Trey Strake and Mary and John Eads, the black-tie gala closed the night out with $2.5 million in the bank.

The Houston Grand Opera Ball, chaired by Margaret Williams, scored bountifully as well with proceeds of $2 million while the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation cashed in with $1.3 million at its gala chaired by Rachel and Jason Volz.

Kudos to Alley Theatre ball chairs Andrew Cordes and Brian Teichman for their black-tie gala at Silver Street Studio where the merry throng danced to the sounds of Gladys Knight while raising more than $1 million.

Likewise, the Brookwood Community scored more than $1 million at its annual lunch. The event was chaired by Mary and Dan McCulloch with honorary chairs Judy and Marc Herzstein and Nancy and Paul Pressler III.

Partying in May

Early in the month, Casa de Esperanza tipped the scales with a record $1.1 in proceeds at the "Building Hope for Children" dinner at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. It was a financial coup attributed in part to chairs Bonner and George Ball, Caroline and Will Brown and Ben Brown and to corporate chair, Merrill A. “Pete” Miller Jr.

The Cattle Baron's Ball, organized by Victory, once again hit the big time in proceeds with a $2 million gain for the American Cancer Society. Take your bows chairs Carol Beck and Debbie Chenevert.

With former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as guest speaker and Brit Hume as interviewer headlining M.D Anderson Cancer Center's "Conversation With a Living Legend" in May, the proceeds were just over $1 million for the cancer center's Moon Shots program.

Summer spectacular

Just as school lets out in May, so does the mega-fundraising as the summer months are spent encouraging corporations, foundations and individuals to shake loose of their dollars for the big fundraisers to come in the fall.

However, the Rotary Club's "The Million Dollar Lunch" gathering at Kiran's Indian restaurant in June more than doubled its goal when one generous patron contributed $1 million to the Rotary Foundation kitty, bringing the total raised in a few hours with only 40 guests to $2.1 million. In crazy understatement, event organizer D'Lisa Simmons said, “We are so fortunate to live in an area where folks are so generous with not only their time, but also their financial resources.”

Likewise, the Holocaust Museum Houston's annual Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award dinner, held in June, honoring the memory of Martin Luther King. Jr. and Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, nudged $1.1 million.

Autumn leaves mean greenbacks

The fundraising ramps up in October as the temps cool and party engine roars. At a cocktail gathering at the Blue Bird Circle Resale Shop, Blue Bird Circle president Pat Edwards presented a check for $2 million for the establishment of the Blue Bird Circle Endowed Chair for Pediatric Neurology and the Neurosciences at Texas Children's Hospital. Accepting the donation were Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s, and neurologists Dr. Gary Clark and Dr. Robert Zeller.

With the help of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his challenge grant, UNICEF was able to mark up $1.4 million for its Wortham Theater Center gala chaired by Penny and Paul Loyd, Hannah and Cal McNair, Alicia and Lance Smith and Tiffany and Rick Smith. The evening raised $700,000, which was matched by Allen.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, "Grand Gala Ball" waltzed away with $1.6 million in proceeds. Kudos to gala chair Frances Marzio. When Kathryn Rabinow and her daughter, Sarah Rabinow Pesikoff, signed on a year out to chair the Planned Parenthood Gala, they set a lofty goal set out in the theme, "For a Million Women, For a Million Reasons." Their success was unprecedented for the non-profit as the gala raised $1.3 million. 

One thousand costumed revelers helped take the biennial Boo Ball, benefiting Ronald McDonald House, to the sweet $1 million mark. Congrats to chairs Maria and Neil Bush and Debbie and Ozzie Bauer.

(Just shy of the million dollar mark, the Children's Museum of Houston gala, under leadership of chairs Kathryn and Jeff Smith, earned proceeds of $950,000.)

Several great nights in November

UTHealth hit the $2 million level with its first-ever fundraising gala, a stellar evening in November honoring Dr. Red Duke and chaired by Ginni and Richard Mithoff. UT Health president Dr. Giuseppe N. Colasurdo was among the first to applaud that successful effort.

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston's "One Great Night in November" nudged close to $1.3 million. The black-tie men's smoker attended by 367 of the city's most influential and wealthy gents.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy cracked up the crowd at the Hilton Americas-Houston as that gathering raised $1.95 million for Boys and Girls Country. Applause, applause for chairs Mark Mey and Jeremy Thigpen.

Houston Children's Charity enjoyed its annual million dollar-plus run when chairs Amy and Peter Shaper and honorees Terri and John Havens led the way for a $1.6 million windfall. The celebrations on stage with Lionel Richie were indeed heartfelt.

With corporate and community powerhouses Scott McClelland of H-E-B/Central Market and Doug Foshee, Sallyport Investments CEO, at the helm, it comes as no surprise that Teach for America was able to bring in a record $1.5 million at its annual dinner, held at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

(Also nudging but not quite reaching the $1 million mark, the annual Trees of Hope gala, chaired by Sherry and Jim Smith Sr. and Jaci and Jim Smith Jr. with Lynn Wyatt serving as honorary chair.)

A holiday gift

In early December, Texas Children's Hospital Ambassadors gathered in the swank River Oaks home of Lindsay and Rand Holstead for the group's annual holiday party and check presentation. This year's mega-donation was $1.45 million.

Patrick Summers, from left, Margaret Alkek Williams and Perryn Leech at the Opera Ball April 2014
The Houston Grand Opera Ball, chaired by Margaret Williams, shown here with Patrick Summers, left, and Perryn Leech, raised $2 million. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
874 Matthew Morrison at the Houston Symphony Centennial Ball May 2014
Glee's Matthew Morrison headlined the Houston Symphony Centennial Ball which brought in $2.6 million. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
Jason and Rachael Volz at the JDRF Gala April 2014
Jason and Rachael Volz chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gala, raising $1.3 million. Photo by © Daniel Ortiz
Kitch Taub, from left, Paul Hobby, Ralph Eads and Jeff Hildebrand at Museum of Fine Arts Houston MFAH One Great Night November 2014
Kitch Taub, from left, Paul Hobby, Ralph Eads and Jeff Hildebrand at the MFAH One Great Night in November which raised $1.3 million. Photo by © Wilson Parish
News, Celebration of Reading, Maria Bush, Neil Bush, April 2014
Maria and Neil Bush chaired the Celebration of Reading evening that raised $2.9 million for literacy programs. Photo by David Shutts
8 A scene from the Ronald McDonald House Houston Boo Ball October 2014
The 1,000 costumed revelers at Ronald McDonald House Boo Ball helped raise $1 million. Photo by © Morris Malakoff
Brian Teichman, left, and Andrew Cordes at the Alley Ball April 2014
Brian Teichman, left, and Andrew Cordes chaired the Alley Theatre gala which raised $1 million. Photo by © Wilson Parish
News, Shelby, Houston Children's Charity, Lionel Ritchie, Nov. 2014
Lionel Richie helped Houston Children's Charity rake in $1.6 million at the Hyatt Regency Downtown. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
45 The venue at the MFAH Grand Gala October 2014
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Gala Ball brought in $1.6 million, thanks to the efforts of chair Frances Marzio. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
19 Jay and Allie Fields, from left, and Linda and Jerry “J.D.” Fields at the Cattle Barons Ball April 2014
Jay and Allie Fields, left, with Linda and J.D. Fields helped Cattle Barons raise $2 million at the annual western-themed ball. Photo by © Michelle Watson/
Sam and Melinda Stubbs at the Museum of Natural Science Gala March 2014
Sam and Melinda Stubbs were in the British spirit for the Houston Museum of Natural Science gala which raised $1.1 million. Photo by © Priscilla Dickson