Gala entertains and raises funds, too

December 8, 2010 • Local News

Hannah Lilley, right, and Zoey Neeld, center, check out Sarah Lilley’s fingernail polish while greeting visitors attending the Community Foundation of Chaves County’s eighth annual Angel Gala Tuesday evening at the Roswell Convention and Visitors Center. (Mark Wilson Photo)

Three men, two of whom are wearing matching tuxedos with red bow ties, are faced with a cruel task — to emcee a silent auction. The irony is not lost on them, and one laughs when the reporter asks how he is going to pull off such a feat at the eighth annual Angel Gala Tuesday night.

As it turns out, the answer to both entertaining the crowd and cajoling them to open their checkbooks, while simultaneously balancing a plate of quiche with one hand and a microphone in the other, during a muted ceremony is really quite simple. Strategy, popularity and having a professional auctioneer who actually went to an auctioneering school all help.

First, strategy. One dating back to Roman rule that is tried and true — divide and conquer. Jeff Smith, the 6-foot-4-inch emcee with a smile and thick, brown hair and also president and CEO of Prime Source Mortgage Inc. on Main Street, sticks to the ground floor of the Roswell Convention and Civic Center alongside former Mayor Bill Owen. Their goal? To get more people bidding.

“The whole idea is to raise the most money we can for charity,” Smith said, adding that the fundraiser will benefit a host of local non-profits through the umbrella charity organization called the Community Foundation of Chaves County. “The more people we can get involved, the better.”

To do so, a variety of tactics ranging from flattery to invoking a politician’s polished spiel must be employed.

“He’s a true politician,” Jolene Lilly, who was eyeballing the homemade pottery and quilts, said jokingly of her friend Owen. “He can talk us into anything.”

While Owen relied on his silver tongue and popularity to gently guide bidders from monetary ambivalence to secure financiers, Smith relied on his memory. He says he remembers who is interested in a particular item, then when time for bidding draws close, he races to find them in the crowd to make them bid the highest.

Frequent golf partners and friends of more than 25 years, Smith and Owen also both draw heavily upon on their personal connections in the crowd to encourage bidding: friends, customers and constituents alike.

“These gentlemen know everyone in the room,” Susie Russell, executive director of CFCC, said of the emcees. “They’re just lively characters and make it fun.”

As the dynamic duo in penguin suits work the floor, the third emcee takes to the podium on the center stage to lead the live auction. A practicing auctioneer and area rancher, Aubrey Dunn is considered an invaluable member of the trio since he graduated from the Missouri Auction School in 2008, known as the nation’s Harvard for auctioneering.

“He knows the real lingo,” Owen said, impressed.

By 7 p.m. the Angel Gala auction is closed. But before the three wise men bid the crowd adieu, they are happy to report that they are sure they raised thousands of dollars for charity.

“We’re always kind of anxious to know how we did,” Owen said in a later interview. “But I think overall we were real pleased with the bottom line, the dollars that were raised.”

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