As was the norm for April in Houston throughout the decades, that springtime month of 2019 was one of the most vibrant of the social and charitable fundraising calendars. The white-tie-and tails Houston Grand Opera Ball, the Hermann Park Conservancy’s Evening in the Park, the mammoth Memorial Hermann Gala — it was a glorious time when millions of dollars were raised for nonprofits.
Now in April 2020, the lights are out at every party venue in the city.
With that loss of the glitz and glamour and the all-important fundraising, we take this opportunity to look back to a time that we may not witness again for many months to come. When again, we ask, will our friends gather in black-tie splendor; raise their paddles in giving; spend the big dollars on party clothes that keep the retailers humming; engage the valet parking services; hire the event planners and florists; and put food on the table of society photographers?
Let us take this moment to reminisce about the calm before the coronavirus storm:
Society for the Performing Arts
It was a rocking good time in the Grand Foyer of Wortham Center when Society for the Performing Arts hosted the 2019 “Black & White Ball,” channeling Truman Capote’s iconic social gathering of 1966. The theme for April 18, 2020, “Vibrant,” promised an equally energized evening with entertainment that would include The Ziggy Band and HSPVA’s jazz and string ensembles, and a swing dance performance by Caleb Teicher & Company.
Alas, it’s off the books in 2020 as is every other fundraiser that had been planned for April.
Trees for Houston
Guests will recall that it was a beautiful spring evening when Trees for Houston held its annual fundraiser beneath a clear tent that allowed views of the canopy of trees and stars beyond. It’s a favorite gathering for many interested in keeping Houston green.
It was a grand night for Kyle and John Kirksey Sr. and Joanie and John Kirksey Jr., who chaired the original Root Ball 25 years ago, and chaired the 2019 fundraiser along with Shawn and Bill Jackson. The April 2, 2020, gala was one among scores of spring charitable fundraisers cancelled due to COVID-19.
Houston Grand Opera Ball
Oh, what a picante evening it was when the Houston Grand Opera Ball, chaired by Marcia and Alfredo Vilas, celebrated the couple’s Mexican heritage and that nation’s cultural contributions. The “Cielito Lindo” theme invited colorful decor and dressing on a 2019 April night that raised $1.2 million for HGO coffers.
With opera performances cancelled for the 2020 spring season and the 2020 Opera Ball ball rescheduled for April 2021, a deficit looms large.
Hermann Park Conservancy’s Evening in the Park
The annual al fresco dinner, held in a party tent parked on a grassy expanse with views to Jones Reflection Pool and McGovern Lake, is an always popular evening when spring frocks and seersucker and linen suits are de rigueur. On this evening in 2019, Barbara Friedman and June Deadrick chaired a gathering that raised more than $525,000 for the continuing park enhancement programs.
The April 24, 2020, event was postponed until 2021.
Memorial Hermann Circle of Life Gala
Who will forget the “helicopter landing” in the ballroom of the Hilton Americas-Houston during the 2019 Memorial Hermann Hospital System Circle of Life Gala? Chairs Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout and Lisa and Jerry Simon helmed the gala that raised $8.25 million, that handsome sum earmarked for Memorial Hermann Trauma and Critical Care Services.
As of this week, the 2020 gala, originally set for April 25, has been rescheduled for August 29 at the Hilton Americas-Houston. Elizabeth and Gary Petersen are chairing.
A Celebration of Reading
Always a delight, last spring’s fundraiser for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy was a hit with authors James Patterson, Gary Sinise, and David Eagleman entertaining in an evening of readings that raised $2.2 million. Originally set for April 30, the 2020 Celebration of Reading has been rescheduled for October 26 at the Hobby Center.
The Alley Theatre Ball
The “La Grande Mascarade: Au Palais Royal” theme set the stage for a colorful retinue of characters and guests on this April 2019 evening that honored the Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts. The ball that had been scheduled for April 25 is now slated for September 26.
Donna and Steve Greenlee are chairing and Beth Madison is the honoree in the “Evening in the Starlight Ballroom” to be held at The Post Oak Hotel.
River Oaks Men’s Clay Court Championship
With the cancellation of the early April tennis tournament, so went the Tootsies fashion show and luncheon that has long been a staple of Houston’s spring social season. There is no rescheduling of this high-style spring luncheon. The ladies will have to wait to don their best warm-weather looks and grand chapeaus in 2021.
Cattle Baron’s Ball
With the rodeo cancellation in mid-March, one might have hoped to air out the dazzling western gear for the annual rip-roaring Cattle Baron’s Ball, that had been scheduled for April 25. But the stay-at-home logic lingers and members of Victory and their 1,300 fans will have to wait until April 24 of next year to revive the boot scootin’ fun. The American Cancer Society earned $1.5 million at last year’s event.
Rienzi Spring Party
Could there be a lovelier setting for a poolside soirèe than that of this stunning River Oaks estate, home of the late Carroll and Harry Masterson? On this evening in 2019, the tableau was camera ready with flower-decked tables lining the verdant garden overlooking the pool. The 2020 event had been scheduled for April 30. That too was cancelled.