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Eagles Gala Auction to provide good time while focusing on helping students

Thu, Oct 5th 2017 08:00 am
Olean Times Herald  [ View Original Article ]

by Tom Dinki, Olean Times Herald 

OLEAN — With all the pageantry of Archbishop Walsh Academy and Southern Tier Catholic School's Eagles Gala Auction — like the decorated foyer and gymnasium, music, food, drinks, auction items and cocktail attire — it can sometimes be easy for attendees to have such a good time they forget for a moment that the event is about supporting students.

However, gala coordinator Theresa Smith said the focus always comes back to where it needs to be during the event's "special appeal," where attendees are asked to raise their paddles in the air and make donations to a restrictive fund used only for tuition assistance. Last year's appeal for student scholarship funds raised about $30,000.

"And the students are right there," said Smith, who is also a member of the schools' Board of Trustees. "They're serving you and they see that — they see the support the room is providing them as well as the underclassmen that are coming up right behind them."

This year's gala will be held Oct. 21 in the school gymnasium, which will be transformed with decorations to hold the formal event. About 250 people are expected to attend the annual gala, which is made possible with sponsorships and volunteer work from businesses, teachers, parents, alumni and students, who serve the tables.

President and Principal Thomas Manko said the money raised — typically around $150,000 according to school officials — goes primarily to scholarships that help students attend Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic, as well as the general operating fund.

"We have a wonderful time, a lot of fun," Manko said. "We're going to raise a good number of dollars to benefit the kids, and that's the important thing."

This year's "Rock Around the Clock" theme will entail music and some short skits that pay homage to the 1950s and '60s. Smith's husband and fellow trustee, Nate Smith, will have his yellow, 1968 Worth W. Smith Co. truck parked outside the school the night of the event, where it will be joined by several other classic cars. Nate Smith also serves as the event's auctioneer and is a 1993 graduate of Walsh.

Smith mailed out personalized invitations to the Class of 1968 due to this year's theme and this school year being the class' 50th class anniversary.

"Hopefully they'll consider attending and we'll provide them with an alumni table so they can kind of have a mini reunion during the gala," she said.

The gala is one of two major fundraising events for the private, Catholic schools. The less formal St. Patrick's Day Party and Raffle is held every March, and combined with the Eagles Gala Auction brings in close to $250,000, according to school officials.

Manko said it costs $11,000 a year to educate one student, yet tuition for the high school students at Walsh is $6,500 and the tuition for the elementary school students at Southern Tier Catholic is $4,300. He said the vast majority of that gap is filled by the two fundraisers.

"They're very big, they're very important to our operating budget as part of the revenue stream. It's crucial," he said. "It's crucial for us that they remain healthy and that we do this annually and we provide a level of service and a high degree of satisfaction that people want to come back every year."

Smith said while tuition is set at what local parents can afford, the cost of educating students can't be adjusted.

"To educate a child is what it is. There's no way that you can scrimp or save or cut off the top and provide," she said. "You have to bridge the gap some way or another, and we're lucky enough to be able to do it with two fundraisers that provide an awful lot to the school to bridge that gap."

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21. Silent auctions, an open bar of wine and beer, and western appetizers will be held until 7:30 p.m., at which time dinner catered by Brother's Bistro will be served. The live auction occurs at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets, which cost $75, must be purchased in advance at stcswalsh.org or by calling 372-8122. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Oct. 11.

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)

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