Charity benefited on night when 100 parties rolled into one

September 28, 2008 

Last weekend was like Derby all over again — parties everywhere.

The weekend's big event, "Justice for All: A Revolutionary Evening of Dinners and Dancing," wasn't just one party — it was a hundred dinner parties in homes and businesses across the city to benefit JustFundKY.

After dinner, most converged on the Lexington Center for a big dance. Some 1,500 had been expected.

JustFundKY is a non-profit corporation created with one goal: to help eradicate discrimination of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people across the commonwealth.

I was invited to one of the sponsor businesses, Meg Jewett's L.V. Harkness & Co., for cocktails on its Jon Carloftis-designed rooftop garden, and then dinner next door at Greentree Antiques & Tearoom.

Next door to Greentree, the sponsors' dinner was being held by newly appointed Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone; his partner, John Davis; insurance executive Debra Hensley, and infamous party hostess Anita Madden. Dahlings, I just had to get into that one.

And since festivities hadn't begun at L.V. Harkness, I just walked over to Scorsone's home, where things had already started. Executives from some of the largest corporations and public institutions in the state were sponsoring and attending this party — Brown-Forman, National City, Fifth Third Bank, Applebee's, Gray Construction,, the University of Kentucky, to name a few — where a huge tent was pitched on the front lawn.

Hensley, president of JustFundKY, said the group was trying "to build a fund where we will have an income stream to help the organizations that are actually doing the work. Once we get to our goal, then we will be in place to start giving out grants." She added, "We run a rapid pace to get to the first million (dollars) and then to the next, and then the next. We're very close to the first one."

The community response has "exceeded our expectations," she said. "A hundred dinner parties. You've got some people who have 30 at their party, 25, 18, some are as small or as intimate as eight or 10, and then you have another group of people coming to the bigger event."

On the veranda, pianist Tedrin Blair Lindsay, from UK's School of Music, was accompanying singers like Mark Kano, of UK Opera Theatre, for the night's entertainment.

I had to get back to L.V. Harkness. They were expecting me for cocktails. Dahlings, there's no holding me.

On the rooftop garden, I spoke with Gay Reading, who owns Greentree Antiques & Tearoom with his partner, John Martin.

"The people at Greentree Close often partner in many ventures," Reading said. "Meg (Jewett) and John and I are supportive of the defense and dignity of the civil rights of all people."

After cocktails, all of the guests walked over to their antiques store/restaurant where they dined on Martin's signature carrot soup, shrimp creole and tiramisú.

Dahlings, it was divine

For the love of the arts

The night before, I drove to Richmond and unfortunately took the scenic route. The backup at the Valley View ferry on Tates Creek Pike was tremendous. It was so long that the driver in front of me fell asleep at the wheel. Needless to say, I was late.

Folks gathered under a huge white tent on the front lawn of John Lackey's beautiful home, Yorick, on Lancaster Avenue. It was for "A Night at the Copacabana," the 19th Annual Arts Gala presented by the Richmond Area Arts Council.

Patrons nibbled on a Latin American-inspired buffet, viewed works of art provided by local artists for a silent auction, and listened to jazz provided by Mickey Tracy and Friends.

But the big news I got here was from the buzz about Richmond's new center for the performing arts on the Eastern Kentucky University campus.

"It's a 2,000-seat auditorium — a main floor and two balconies, and it will have a 250-seat black box theater," said Jan Tunnell, a founding member of the RAAC. "The architectural drawings are in the final stages right now. It's a great thing for not only Richmond and Madison County, but for the entire region."

Kaye Jones, a Richmond city commissioner and a self-described champion of the arts, said, "It's fun to come out on a Friday night and see friends and enjoy a little jazz, good food and fellowship. I've had a wonderful time."

The next fund-raiser for the RAAC is the Christmas concert with country singer Lee Greenwood. He's the guy who sings God Bless the U.S.A. Mark your calendars.

Making friends and music

Back to Saturday and the next events. Both were north of Lexington on U.S. 68. The first stop was at Gaines way Farm and the black-tie "Moonlight at Gainesway: A Benefit Gala for the University of Kentucky." The Friends of the UK School of Music were at it again, raising money for a cause they are so passionate about. Hundreds of folks gathered in the beautiful and cavernous arena. It was more like something you'd see at Keeneland Race Course.

Miles Osland and the UK Jazz Ensemble were playing the big band sounds of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. According to Ann Wheeler, president of the Friends, "it's our fund-raising event for the year."

The Friends of the School of Music "uses the money raised for scholarships and grants and then also we have avenues for the students to perform," Wheeler said.

Ben Arnold, director of the UK School of Music, said "we started this group, The Friends of Music, four years ago. We did this event first at Pin Oak Stud in Versailles. And then the last two years at R.J. Corman's airplane hangar. But we enjoyed the horse farms a great deal and wanted to come back to them. Gainesway was very generous and let us have this space. It's a wonderful evening; a couple of hundred people come out, we have music the entire evening, we have the jazz band performing for two hours here, we have silent auction, live auction items. So it's a fund-raiser and music event at the same time."

I couldn't have said it better.

Paris supports its Y

Over in Paris, James and Misdee Miller opened their beautiful 1,000-acre Hillcroft Farm for the Paris-Bourbon County YMCA's 23rd Annual Fall Benefit. Earlier that day, I called the Paris Y and asked for directions. I was told that the gate would be well-marked. I guess the candle blew out. I had to turn around in Millersburg. But I found it ... a lone tiki torch. Oh, well.

But dahlings, they had indoor parking and I had to walk through the Millers' carriage house to get to the party. They have a dazzling collection of antique horse-drawn coaches, surreys, buggies and a fabulous sleigh. After letting my eyes adjust, I ran into Barclay and Nick De Wet, owners of Leatherwood Stud in Bourbon County.

"We are pro Paris, my husband and I," she said. "He's originally from South Africa and I'm from Washington, D.C. We know Misdee and James Miller and we are good friends of them. They supported the St. Mary School Gala earlier this year" she said. That's where I met her. De Wet added "We look forward to this party every year."

As it just so happened that the benefit was serving the De Wets' wines from their South African vineyard and winery, Enon and Leatherwood labels.

I finally got to speak to the grand dame herself, Misdee Wrigley Miller, who was well-known in the area before moving here. She has won several world championships with her Saddlebreds and is an accomplished four-in-hand driver with her Hackney ponies. She has competed and won in the Lexington Junior League Horse Show. "We are just so thrilled," she said. "This event has been going on for quite a while, but we started doing it out here at the farm four years ago.

"And Cathy Boone (CEO of the Paris-Bourbon YMCA) is such a dynamic force. She approached me and said, 'This is kind of crazy, but do you think we can possibly have this event at your farm?' And I said, well, why not.

"And four years ago we were in the carriage house the whole night and maybe had 75 people. Now, it's just so gratifying to see so many people come out to support the Y. Paris is a better place because the Y is a really good Y here, so we are happy to support it anyway we can."

Miller's husband, James, who is on the board of the Y, added "The most important thing about this event is that nearly 100 percent of all the revenue from this event goes to support the endowment at the Y. It helps to take care of the entire community for anyone who cannot afford to have after-school programs, who can't afford to exercise to stay fit. It helps so many children in the community. In Paris, there is no community center. The YMCA works as a community center in Paris. It gives the opportunity for so many underprivileged people, not just children, but adults as well, to be able to have a very good experience with health and fitness.

"We're just happy that people will come out and support that and help their own community for people who can't afford it."

"I've been here almost five years," said Boone, who came to Paris from the High Street Y in Lexington. "It's critical to this community to have a Y as wonderful as our Y in a town as small as Paris. We're so incredibly fortunate and we're so fortunate for the community support we have. We're limited in the membership and program fees, so we're dependant on community support. We're just so blessed."

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