The venue and weather were nothing less than perfect at the tenth annual Preakness Party, held on Saturday, May 17, 2014, to benefit the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation (RCC/EFI). This year’s event was graciously hosted by Bill and Cean Cawthorn at their home, the historic “Providence,” on the majestic lower Piankatank River.
Four hundred and fifty-nine guests — an all-time record — were welcomed by RCC’s president, Dr. Elizabeth H. “Sissy” Crowther, and Dr. Robert Gates, president of the RCC/EFI board. Attesting to the Party’s success, the net proceeds also hit a new high of $75,000. The event was made possible by generous financial support from the Charles E. and Claire V. Sutcliffe Education Trust, EVB (Eastern Virginia Bankshares), Chesapeake Bank and Chesapeake Investment Group, Union First Market Bank, Bank of Lancaster and Bay Trust Company, Neal & Nickel Wealth Management of Wells Fargo Advisors, and C&F Bank.
Among the many pleasures to be found in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula are the creations of skilled chefs at restaurants that are among the finest in the world. The college is especially grateful to distinguished members of the chefs’ honorary society, the “Order of the Five Gulls,” who donated their skills and ingredients to delight the palates of Party guests. These include Don Marvin of Eckhard’s in Topping, Richard Drousche of Indian Creek Yacht & Country Club in Kilmarnock, Heather Minter of the Kilmarnock Inn, Brenda Lee Jackson, owner of Lancaster Tavern in Lancaster Courthouse, Peter Woods of Merroir in Topping, David Coontz of the Steamboat Restaurant at Piankatank River Golf Club in Hartfield, and T.V. Flynn of The Tides Inn in Irvington.
Also participating were several talented cooks from Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury in Irvington; their efforts were organized by Jane Brouse, director of dining services, and dining service production manager Genita Shearin. To enhance the festive atmosphere, fine Virginia wines were poured by Belle Mount Winery (Richmond County), Good Luck Cellars (Lancaster County), and Ingleside Vineyards (Westmoreland County). Very special thanks are extended to Chef Hatley Bright, director of RCC’s culinary arts and hospitality program, who acted as food and beverage liaison for the Preakness Party organizers.
Jon Stallard, radio personality and part-owner of WRAR-Radio in Tappahannock, manned the podium as master of ceremonies, a role he has maintained since the Party’s inception. Bugler William Gill opened the event with a rousing fanfare to mark the appearance of equestrians Lucia and Benjamin Sanchez of the Commonwealth Fox Hounds. Also returning from previous years was Williamsburg’s talented Harris Simon Trio, who put guests “In the Mood” with their toe-tapping jazz. College of William and Mary jazz instructor Harris Simon led the trio, with able assistance from Jordan Ponzi on the bass and Keith Willingham on drums.
The climax of the afternoon was the big-screen live viewing of the exciting Preakness Stakes. A raffle drawing among the guests backing the winning trifecta of horses was won by Mike Floyd for race winner “California Chrome”; Rick Bowman for second place finisher “Ride on Curlin”; and John K. Perrin for “Social Inclusion,” who came in third. Another traditional competition at the Preakness Party is for Best Hat. Evelyn Turner, whose adorable chapeau adorned with a stuffed pony garnered the admiration of all beholders, was awarded first prize, while Anne Meekins and Nellie Sullivan received second and third prizes respectively.
No event of this magnitude could succeed without the support of area merchants and corporations who graciously re-invest in the RCC service area, giving back to the college via projects such as the Preakness Party. Many persons and organizations provided goods and services to the foundation at no charge or for less than their usual fees. These included ARTon Products, Barbour Printing, Carried Away Cuisine, “Marley” of Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern, W. C. Lowery, Inc., Al Pugh Distributing Co., Minter Golf Cart Sales, and River Birch Nursery & Landscaping.
Also, without generous contributions from area merchants, artists, artisans, and professionals, the array of exciting and eclectic items presented for Party guests’ bidding pleasure this year would not have been possible. Among these were a tour of the United States Capitol building with Congressman Rob Wittman; cruises on the region’s scenic waterways; an oyster roast; golfing packages; vacations in Naples, Florida, St. Thomas, or Lake Tahoe; many beautiful pieces or sets of jewelry; quilts; and a wide variety of themed baskets. As at earlier Preakness Parties, auctioneer extraordinaire Manuel Haynie and his lovely wife, Joanne, handled the live auction.
“It takes a team!” says RCC director of college advancement Cherie Carl, who heads the RCC Educational Foundation, remarking that many contributed their time and talents to the success of the 2014 Preakness Party. The silent auction was perfectly orchestrated by RCC volunteer Leslie Franklin, with help from Bank of Lancaster volunteers Ed and Joyce Pittman, Chesapeake Bank volunteers Karla Gammon and Amy Mitchem, and EVB volunteers Jim Minor and Carmen Ward. The bank volunteers also kept things running smoothly at the race raffle tables.
The Preakness Party steering committee was chaired by veteran committee member Ginny Ritter. Her dedicated team maintains self-imposed standards for décor and auction items which exceed expectations year after year. “We extend special thanks to RCC/EFI board members Cookie Fleet, Norm Howe, Carolyn Lemon, and Martha Tallent,” says Carl, “and non-board members Lila Brent, Ashton Cawthorn, Hilary Derby, Joyce Gunderson, Kathy Humphreys, Bob Jackson, Elizabeth Miller, ‘Skeeter’ and Betty Penley, Carolyn Roy, and Marguerite Slaughter.” Carl adds a special commendation for the late Steve Tallent, who with his wife Martha first conceived the idea of the Preakness Party. “Without the combined devotion, hours of time, materials, and talents that all the volunteers cheerfully and willingly provide, the event wouldn’t capture the imagination as it so powerfully does!” she asserts.
Many members of the college staff worked behind the scenes to make it all happen. As she does every year, President Crowther declared the Preakness Party a college-wide event, calling on all departments to pitch in. College advancement director Carl and departmental administrator Sharon Drotleff led the way to assure that the full resources of the RCC Educational Foundation were harnessed for the event; they were backed by Educational Foundation employees Brittany Jenkins and Anthony Washington, as well as Tom Martin and Margaret Lawyer of the Public Information Office, who lent their writing skills and visual creativity to pre-Party publicity efforts. Other RCC staff members who helped organize the event ahead of time include Business Office manager Sue Broaddus; dean of technology and distance learning Leslie Smith, with her staff members Brad Lewis, Rhett Moore, Dave Newsome, Eric Pesola, and Joe Wolski; and Sherika Charity of the Financial Aid Office.
Facilities manager Mark Beaver and buildings and grounds supervisor Richard Lewter, with their team — Mark Acree, Wayne Charnick, Liston Frazier, Bobby Kenner, John Leonard, Sam Mitchell, and Robbie Pearce — were responsible for setting things up and keeping the tent area tidy during the event. RCC staff member Eric Fallin and College Board member Pam Nixon led a group of students who efficiently parked cars and shuttled guests to the Party tent. Faculty and staff volunteers who helped out wherever they were needed during the Party were Rebecca Beaver, Dixieann Chapman, Alicia Gallo, Shirley Johnson, David Keel, Petie Norris, Christine Stamper, Hutt Williams, and Kendra Wood.
College supporters should save the date — Saturday, May 16, 2015 — for the 11th annual RCC/EFI Preakness Party, which will take place at “Wheatland” in Essex County. For more information, please call 804-333-6707, or visit www.rappahannock.edu/foundation.