This article was written by Tammy Ayer and originally published at News-Press.com on 2/28/15 at 6:08pm.
Guests cheered as the tally of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest hit $3.353 million — a record — but Dorothy Fitzgerald wasn’t satisfied.
“Sit down. I mean, sit down!” the event co-chair shouted Saturday from the podium at Miromar Lakes Beach Club. “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and the fat lady ain’t sung yet.”
With that, she urged guests to keep giving to one auction lot — No. 30, It’s Time to Make Change. Donors tossed coins with certain amounts into piggy banks; wine fest trustees Gary King and Rose O’Dell King would match each donation up to $25,000.
Her plea ensured success. Donors gave $41,500 and the Kings matched $25,000 for a total of $66,500.
The two-day event, which kicked off with nine chef vintner dinners in private homes on Friday evening, is signature event of SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., a nonprofit that funds programs that serve local children.
The Wine Fest has raised more than $14 million over the last seven years, making it the most successful fundraising event in Lee County. It raised about $2.52 million in 2014.
The primary beneficiary is Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, which is scheduled to open in 2017 at HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers. The children’s hospital will provide new and expanded pediatric medical services and sub-specialty services to children throughout Southwest Florida.
The project is expected to cost $242 million. Lee Memorial needs at least $100 million in private funds to afford construction.
The Wine Fest also supports Florida SouthWestern State College’s pediatric nursing program and FGCU’s music therapy program.
Changes to this year’s Wine Fest included a record-breaking 320 attendees (a bump from the average 300), an increase in ticket prices from $1,000 to $1,500 per person (it sold out) and phone-in auction bidding.
Supporters also expected to meet their $10 million pledge toward the children’s hospital and did so handily, as event co-chair Elaine Hawkins noted.
“Our last contribution to our $10 million pledge is only $1.8 million. Obviously, we will be able to give more than $10 million,” she said, because the event raised well beyond that amount.
Auctioneer Scott Robertson and celebrity emcee Kellie Burns of NBC2 kept the bidding light and lively, working the crowd and offering personal pleas for lots that especially touched them. Guests gave back the love, singing “Happy Birthday” to Burns, making that annual celebration even more memorable.
The biggest single auction lot was Fund a LIFESAVING Cause – Pediatric Intensive Care. Donors collectively gave $600,000, topping last year’s Fund a Cause for pediatric cardiology, which raised $455,000.
The bidding kicked off with a $100,000 pledge, to which Georgann Williams added $65,000 to mark her 65th birthday. Other donors pledged $50,000 and down.
Dr. Alex Daneshmand, director of of the pediatric procedural sedation center and a pediatric critical care physician, spoke of a 5-year-old he treated who nearly died about a month ago. Children like that boy are beneficiaries of donors’ generosity.
“Whatever you raise today is going to make a big difference in the life of a child,” he said.
Featured child artist Sophia Black, 11, has been undergoing treatment at Golisano for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer. She spoke to guests, explaining the artwork she created with colored pencils. It features a female warrior cat with blue-shadowed eyes, pink ears and long brown hair.
“Her name is Maya and she’s a cat because I like cats,” said Sophia, daughter of A.J. and Jolie Black. “She had brown hair like me, and I like sweaters.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, it comes down to this. If you donate $5,000, your name will be on the plaque” under the artwork when it hangs at the children’s hospital as does almost every piece of featured child artwork.
A forest of auction paddles rose around the room as Robertson thanked as many bidders as he could.
“Thank you Joe… the Sheppards,” he said. “Dave and Cheryl (Copham) just donated $50,000 … we’re at $360,000 and Joe Catti of FineMark Bank just said, ‘I’ll take us up $40,000.’ But it’s not over.”
The bidding totaled $500,000, leaving Sophia’s mother at a loss for words.
“Thank you. I don’t know what else to say,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “I can’t even talk.”
Preferred Travel of Naples Inc., which donated 10 auction lots, joined SWFL Children’s Charities trustees in giving Sophia a Disney cruise. She’ll be joined by friends along with family.
New supporters along with longtime trustees made the event a success, Hawkins said.
“We just had a fabulous group of people here today. There was participation across the board,” Hawkins said. “A lot of people were here for the first time, and there was just extreme generosity. I’m so happy to see that.”
Hawkins and Fitzgerald, who’ve co-chaired the event for two years, are passing those roles on to Sandra Stilwell and Andie Vogt. Hawkins expects they’ll continue the hard work and see even more success.
“We want to keep the enthusiasm going. The hospital is always going to need money,” she said.
Guests had 35 extravagant and rare auction items to bid on. Read the full descriptions here. And here’s what each lot went for Saturday.
•Auction lot No. 1
Wine smackdown at FGCU Wine Lab — $125,000
•Auction lot No. 2
Royalty New York — $25,000
•Auction lot No. 3
Angelina’s Dinner with Friends – Your Place or Theirs — $20,000
•Auction lot No. 4
La Dolce Vita, Italian Style — $55,000
•Auction lot No. 5
Magnificent Twelve – A Dozen 100 Point Wines — $40,000
•Auction lot No. 6
Snow or Sand? Decisions, Decisions! — two lots at $40,000 each
•Auction lot No. 7
The Perfect Pairing — $55,000
•Auction lot No. 8
Warrior Maya Lives Forever – Child Art by Sophia Black — $500,000
•Auction lot No. 9
Boating, Bordeaux and Bleu Provence — $45,000
•Auction lot No. 10
Big Time, Big Wine! — $15,000
•Auction lot No. 11
Wine & Rivers – A Celebration of European Winemaking — $35,000
•Auction lot No. 12
Borrowed Time — $120,000
•Auction lot No. 13
Super Sonoma – We are the Champions! — $170,000
•Auction lot No. 14
Private Cruise in … Paradise — $45,000
•Auction lot No. 15
A City Filled with Desire – Charleston — $25,000
•Auction lot No. 16
Napa Like Never Before — $40,000
•Auction lot No. 17
Wait No More – Mereday’s — $40,000
•Auction lot No. 18
All Aboard! Romance on the Rails — $50,000
•Auction lot No. 19
Take Me Out to the Ballgame! — $90,000
•Auction lot No. 20
Fund a Lifesaving Cause – Pediatric Intensive Care — $600,000
•Auction lot No. 21
101 Bottles of Wine on YOUR Wall! — $20,000
•Auction lot No. 22
Unmask the Forbidden City — $80,000
•Auction lot No. 23
Savor Sonoma — $65,000
•Auction lot No. 24
Hyde and Seek! — $25,000
•Auction lot No. 25
Magical, magnificent Morocco — $60,000
•Auction lot No. 26
As Close to Heaven as You Can Get – Celebrating 2002 Napa Cabernet — $110,000
•Auction lot No. 27
It is Better to Have Your Head in the Clouds … — $17,500
•Auction lot No. 28
Castles & Connemara — $35,000
•Auction lot No. 29
Melka’s Magic — $50,000
•Auction lot No. 30
Count Me In … It’s Time to Make Change! — $66,500 (includes $25,000 match by Gary King and Rose O’Dell King)
•Auction lot No. 31
Bottles, Barrels and Bacchus — $50,000
•Auction lot No. 32
The Luxurious Wilderness — $65,000
•Auction lot No. 33
Ocean Blue — $17,500
•Auction lot No. 34
Live It Up in the Hamptons — $75,000
•Auction lot No. 35
Pass the hat, which guests filled with cash and variety of items — $110,000