Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Dell Children’s top of the gala class

Charity party came with Oscar-level production values

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com
Courtney Jones and Sonia Kotecha attend a luncheon for CASA of Texas timed to the opening of the Texas Legislature

To borrow a metaphor from sports, Dell Children’s Medical Center could run a tutorial on how to stage a gala.

The hospital’s Armando Zambrano, lighting designer Ilios and projections designer Houndstooth Studio miraculously transformed a vast ballroom at the Austin Convention Center into an intimate, 21st-century theater with four corner stages and a central arena-like stage seamlessly plastered with projected images and words.

These are production values you’d expect from the Oscars. Co-chairs Mary Miles and Owen Temple added a musical touch by introducing four Austin country acts whose images and sounds were shared with the nearly 1,100 guests. Most if not all of the musicians were parents whose children had been treated at the growing medical center.

Flowers by David Kurio made another classy, luxurious statement, as did the precise, attentive dinner service.

Zambrano reports that the affair grossed $1.36 million, a jump of $250,000 over 2012. A lot of that came during the astonishing if overlong live auction. Here, vacation packages went for $20,000 or $30,000. A glossy, black Labrador retriever puppy was sold for $16,000 — to the chagrin of animal welfare activists and the happy shock of everyone else.

What will never leave my memory, however, are the testimonials, on video and live from the stage, of parents who went through catastrophic medical crises with their kids. Hearing Jennifer and Blake Sallé talk about Skylar, or Katherine and Pat Jones go over the months they tended Patton, was heart-rending.

Obviously confident and accomplished in their daily lives, both dads were left somewhat vulnerable by the sudden onset of medical calamity. They called around the country to question top experts. Those doctors, in turn, confirmed that the Austinites were in good hands at Dell Children’s no matter the crisis.

Quite a testimonial for a hospital that’s a mere few years old.

Mad Style Winter Soiree

The Scottish Rite Theater never looked so swanky. Black lounge decor transformed the 1870s German social hall into the setting for a 1960s cocktail party. Dressy folks mingled, nibbled, sipped and listened to music and speeches.

The Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — whose name is ripe for rebranding — staged the party on an otherwise quiet January night. Upon entering, I encountered Dr. John Hogg and construction boss David Garza. On his lapel, Garza wore a stunning diamond pin that turned out to be vintage Harry Winston, a holiday gift from his partner, Hogg.

Inside the lounge, I ran into Reuel Meditz, the pianist and composer who is blazing a career path off the usual music industry map. Also ready for chat was wise and witty Perla Cavazos, who filled me in on the dignitaries speaking onstage.

Working the crowd was Andy Brown, who is running for Travis County judge. Onstage were two of the most revered figures in the Hispanic community, former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and former Mayor Pro Tem John Treviño.

They recalled the early fights for civil rights in Austin, but they also gave credit to two businessmen, brothers Joe Molina and John Molina, as crucial role models. The evening’s honorees, the Molinas had parlayed a good education into an oil rig business that, by all accounts, is doing quite well. Son and nephew Stefan Molina runs the chamber’s foundation.

While I’d love to profile all these figures, I made my strongest case to Elizabeth Gonzales, the insurance pro who invited me to my first chamber event. My advice: Listen to her.

Merry Merry Martini Mixer

The push during this legislative session, I learned at the Merry Merry Martini Mixer for Equality Texas, will be behind anti-discrimination bills in the areas of jobs and insurance. Good places to start, says director Chuck Smith.

Last session, the lobby did spectacularly well helping to pass anti-bullying laws. Voices in the community now demand action on marriage equality. That’s not on the near horizon for Texas, Smith says, but if some legislator wants to get out in front of history, Equality Texas might consider it.

The Mixer is undiluted fun. This year, it was staged in a tent over surface parking at 400 Congress Ave., a site often utilized during festivals. A Moroccan theme meant fire dancers, belly dancers and a camel, which Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo dutifully saddled while shooting the Hook ’Em Horns sign.

He’s a good sport and a good friend of the community. His wife, Tanya Acevedo, looked smashing as usual.