The 11th Annual Preakness Party, which benefits the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation (RCC EFI), was held this year on Saturday, May 16. The event was hosted at “Wheatland,” in Loretto, upper Essex County — a beautiful and historic estate, the home of the Bance family, which boasts one of the few surviving steamboat wharves within the Chesapeake watershed.
Three hundred and ninety-one friends of the college were welcomed by RCC’s president, Dr. Elizabeth H. “Sissy” Crowther, and Dr. Robert Gates, president of the RCC EFI board. The Party 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 Bank; Bank of Lancaster and Bay Trust Company; Neal & Nickel Wealth Management of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC; and C&F Bank. This year’s successful event raised over $70,000.
Among the many pleasures to be found in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula are the creations of skilled chefs at restaurants and catering establishments. The college is especially grateful to distinguished members of the chefs’ honorary society, the “Order of the Five Gulls,” who donated their skills, preparing their menu specialties to delight the palates of Party guests: Greg Griffin of the Kilmarnock Inn, Alex Cribbs of the Steamboat Restaurant at Piankatank River Golf Club in Hartfield, Kay Campbell of the Fat Finch Café in Tappahannock, Rich Ryland of Stratford Hall, and Carol Meade Smith of Relish Restaurant and Wine Bar in Warsaw. Also serving up delicious offerings were Jackie Lawson, owner of Over the Top Catering & Event Planning in Tappahannock, and executive chef Aaron Beach from Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury in Irvington, whose efforts were organized by Jane Brouse, RWC’s director of dining services, and its dining service production manager, Genita Shearin. To heighten 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 due 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. Equestrians Lucia and Benjamin Sanchez of the Commonwealth Fox Hounds did much to enhance the ambiance. Also contributing to the festivities were DJ Russ Bertino, and Manuel and Joanne Haynie, who handily managed the live auction.
A traditional competition at the Preakness Party recognizes the ladies wearing the “Best Hats.” Anne Meekins was awarded first prize, while Nellie Armstrong and Judy Anglin placed second and third respectively. But the climax of the afternoon was the big-screen live viewing of the exciting Preakness Stakes. Bugler William Gill contributed a rousing fanfare to signal the start of the race … and they were off!
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, Crying Shame Frame Shop, “Marley” of Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern, Russ Bertino, W. C. Lowery, Inc., Al Pugh Distributing Co., River Birch Nursery & Landscaping, and Northern Neck Wireless.
Due to generous donations from area merchants, artists, artisans, and professionals, the array of exciting and eclectic items presented for Party guests’ bidding pleasure this year was more varied and abundant than ever. Among these were more than 125 items associated with the following themes: A Sporting Good Time, At Your Service, All in Good Taste, All in the Family, Antiques and Collectibles, Artful Expressions, Home Sweet Home, and Travel and Adventure.
“It takes a dedicated and talented team!” says RCC dean of college advancement Cherie Carl, who heads the RCC Educational Foundation. Many people, she remarked, contributed their time and skills to the success of the 2015 Preakness Party. The silent auction was perfectly orchestrated by RCC Educational Foundation assistant Brittany Jenkins and Preakness party committee volunteer Joyce Gunderson. Bank of Lancaster volunteers Ed and Joyce Pittman helped with the race raffle, and Chesapeake Bank volunteer Amy Mitchem assisted with business transactions. Other community volunteers who kept things running smoothly included Keith Carl, Barry Drotleff, Darla Newman, and Carolyn Ward.
The Preakness Party steering committee was chaired by veteran committee member Ginny Ritter, whose dedicated team maintains self-imposed standards for décor and auction items which exceed expectations year after year. “We extend very special thanks to RCC EFI board members Chalie ‘Cookie’ Fleet, Norm Howe, Carolyn Lemon, and Martha Tallent,” says Carl, “as well as non-board members Lila Brent, Cean Cawthorn, Karen Crowther, Hilary Derby, Peggy Fleming, Ethel Frye, Kathy Humphreys, Alva Jackson, Bob Jackson, Elizabeth Miller, Bonnie Morris, ‘Skeeter’ and Betty Penley, Carolyn Roy, Marguerite Slaughter, and Emily Wilkinson.” Carl adds a special commendation for the late Steve Tallent, who with his wife Martha first conceived the idea of the Preakness Party. “Because of the combined devotion, hours of time, materials, and talents that all the volunteers willingly provide, the event was a real success.”
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. Sue Broaddus and Anthony Washington assisted with business transactions. Tom Martin and Margaret Lawyer of the Public Information Office lent their writing skills and visual creativity to Party publicity efforts. Other RCC staff members who helped at the event include Terry Abell, Dixieann Chapman, Sherika Charity, Marleen Cralle, Shirley Johnson, Lorraine Justice, David Keel, Petie Norris, Eric Pesola, Martha Rest, Karen Turner, and Hutt Williams. Dean of Technology and Learning Resources Virginia Jones, with staff members Rhett Moore, Ben Smither, Brad Lewis, and Joe Wolski, kept the electronic side of the event under control.
Facilities manager Mark Beaver and buildings and grounds supervisor Richard Lewter, with their team—Mark Acree, Bernard Brooks, Wayne Charnick, Mike Davis, Kevin Haydon, John Leonard, Sam Mitchell, and Robbie Pearce—were responsible for setting things up and keeping the tent area tidy. Finally, RCC staff member Eric Fallin led a group of enthusiastic students who efficiently parked cars and shuttled guests to the Party tent on golf carts donated for use by Minter’s Golf Carts and Sales in Tappahannock. The student volunteers included: LaShawon Churchill, Michael Plummer, Falon Robertson, Shelly Robertson, Brandy Robinson and DeVante’ Veney.