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Houston’s Tropical Gala Means Shorts, Hawaiian Shirts and a Whopping $2.3 Million — Putting the Fun Into Fundraising

Houston Museum of Natural Science Brings All the Festive Frivolity

BY // 03.16.23

At a Houston Museum of Natural Science board meeting several weeks in advance of the “Sunset Soirée” (aka HMNS Gala 2023), museum president and CEO Joel Bartsch quipped that he would be wearing Bermuda shorts and flip flops when the doors opened on the annual fundraiser. Only, he wasn’t kidding. In fact, he was one among all of the 500 guests that joyfully embraced the “resort wear” recommendation.

Of course, Bartsch was the only one in flip flops. Applause, applause for his fashion mettle. The chosen attire for gents ranged from shorts, Hawaiian shirts and deck shoes to pastel linen jackets and white slacks. The ladies donned floral and tropical print frocks of various lengths and colorful tops over white slacks. This genius approach to gala dressing resulted in high spirits, particularly among the men who gladly skipped the tux attire.

Seth and Emma Elsenbrook, Lesha and Tom Elsenbrook_DOrtizPhoto_030423-089
Seth & Emma Elsenbrook, Lesha & Tom Elsenbrook at the Houston Museum of Natural Science ‘Sunset Soirée’ (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)

Leading the evening were gala chairs Stephanie and Frank Tsuru. She in a flowing, feathered orange-hued gown by Lapointe. He in chic yachtsman attire — white slacks, double breasted navy blazer and a floral ascot worn with his crisp white shirt. And shades.

“We felt the gala added a dose of festive frivolity, and we hope it sets a trend,” Stephanie Tsuru says.

The Tsurus clearly put the fun in fundraising. We don’t recall any recent gala that was more lively or guests more delighted with the evening that on this night raised a whopping $2.3 million. The bottom line was enhanced by the museum’s famous silent auction (fossils, gems, jewelry) which this year included Frank Tsuru’s vintage ’61 Chevrolet Corvette and “Stan,” the T. Rex’s skull replica.

Jim and Sharla Thompson, Patty Harris and T. Mark Kelly, Jimmy and Reagan Bailey
Jim & Sharla Thompson, Patty Harris & T. Mark Kelly, Jimmy & Reagan Bailey at the Houston Museum of Natural Science ‘Sunset Soirée’ (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)

The cocktail hour set the stage with palm trees, layers of colorful bougainvillea and baskets of tropical fruits adorning the museum’s vast foyer. Mojitos and Hemingway daiquiris were served from a Tiki bar. A champagne tower and caviar tasting station provided by Black River Caviar added to the energy. The David Caceres Trio entertained with his signature Latin beats.

Guests were seated across the museum for the tropical-inspired dinner from City Kitchen. Some guests dined with the dinosaurs in the Morian Hall of Paleontology and Morian Overlook, while others sated their appetites amid the mysteries of The Laurie and Reed Morian Cabinet of Curiosities and the royalty of King Tut’s Tomb Discovery Experience. Just imagine, dining with King Tut!

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Roslyn Bazzelle Mitchell & Derrick Mitchell at the Houston Museum of Natural Science ‘Sunset Soirée’ (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)

After dinner, the throng descended to the Alfred C. Glassell Jr. Hall for dancing to the yacht rock sounds of the Members Only Yacht Club band. Sea creatures floating overhead and on display along with shell specimen in the displays.

PC Seen: Monica and Fox Benton, Meredith and Jean-Marc Monrad, Bobbie Nau and Mark Grossberg, Jessica and Tom Roupe, Dan Dinges, Cornelius Dupré, Krystal and Garrett Thompson, Phoebe and Bobbie Tudor, Patty Harris and T. Mark Kelly, Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Carolyn and Jake Sabat, Kelly and Bill Montgomery, and Dana Barton and Robert Clay.

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