Holiday Ball provides festive foundation for FOPP summer series
By Craig Howard
In addition to donning their formal best on the first Saturday in December, Peterson and his wife, Charmaine, have donated time over the years to the Friends of Pavillion Park committee, which coordinates the annual event. Proceeds from the gala go toward the free summer concert series, college scholarships and other activities at the park.
"It's not about just getting more money, it's about celebrating last year and looking forward to the future," Peterson said. "It's really a celebration of community."
Peterson said the Holiday Ball should be grouped among civic benchmarks that include the incorporation of Liberty Lake, a trail system founded by enterprising residents and the volunteer effort that rallied to make Pavillion Park a reality.
"They're all reflections of an extraordinary community and the quality people who reside here," the mayor said.
After attending the Holiday Ball for more than a decade - the first was held in 2000 with a one-year hiatus in 2006 - Peterson pauses with emotion when asked about his favorite memory of the event. That occurred in 2007 on Dec. 7 - Pearl Harbor Day as well as the birthday of Peterson's father who was in attendance that evening.
"We sang ‘Happy Birthday' to my dad," Peterson said. "It was pretty special."
This year's Holiday Ball is 5 p.m. to midnight Dec. 8 in the Grand Pennington Ballroom at the Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane. Event organizer Laura Frank said the commitment of the FOPP Holiday Ball committee has been critical in building the framework for the occasion.
"We have an unbelievable group of volunteers once again this year," Frank said. "The event is made possible due to the hard work and dedication of the committee members."
A total of 14 people comprise the committee, which begins preliminary discussions in the summer and meets weekly starting in September. By November, "things are getting pretty frantic," according to committee member Sue Schneidmiller.
"It's a lot of work," Schneidmiller said. "But every year, it all turns out. It's a wonderful evening."
The impact of the Holiday Ball was underscored in 2010 when the symphony cancelled its traditional Labor Day concert at Comstock Park after a 25-year run, citing budget cuts. Meanwhile, the Liberty Lake performance went on as scheduled that September, thanks to the generosity of FOPP.
"The most significant challenge is that this is the only fundraiser that Friends of Pavillion Park holds," Frank said. "This event determines what we are able to provide for the summer events the following year. A challenge that we face is to bring awareness that the events are funded by the community, and without the continued support of the community through donations and attending the Holiday Ball, the events would not be possible."
The origins of Liberty Lake's most celebrated fundraiser go back to a time when Pavillion Park was still being built. The green space itself was made possible through donated land and development from the Schneidmiller Family, Greenstone Corp. and a handful of grants. In 1992, FOPP was established and, not long afterward, a fundraiser was held at the Mirabeau Park Hotel.
"We had it on Mother's Day weekend and called it ‘Picnic in the Park,'" said Kelli Schneidmiller, organizer of the inaugural fundraiser. "It was a reminder that this was going to be a substantial park, something tangible for the community."
As awareness of the concert series grew over the years - along with funds in the FOPP coffers - Kelli Schneidmiller said the task of booking quality entertainment is not the uphill battle it once was.
"Now, we're on the map," she said. "They know it's a cool place to go."
The Holiday Ball did take a brief detour in 2006 after plans for an autumn rendition of the event failed to generate sufficient interest. A scheduling conflict with the Davenport resulted in a shift on the calendar to Oct. 21 and a different venue. After just over 100 tickets had been sold by early October, the jubilee was called off.
"FOPP got the message," event organizer Carol Darby said at the time. "This is a signature event that's always been in December."
The festivities returned with a flourish the following year, generating $47,000 for the cause.
The Davenport - a landmark hotel that opened in 1914, closed in 1985 and reopened in 2002 after an extensive renovation - typically welcomes around 300 each year for the Holiday Ball. A record 350 guests attended in 2003. The site is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and was the first hotel in the nation to feature air conditioning.
"The Davenport is perfect for our event," Frank said. "I can't think of a better place to go for an elegant evening out in Spokane during the holidays."
As usual, the evening will include a silent and live auction with an array of unique items, including vacation getaways, a cooking class, gift baskets, artwork and much more. Liberty Lake resident and KREM Meteorologist Tom Sherry will once again emcee the live auction. Entrée options for the three-course dinner include Filet Mignon, Caraway Chicken and Mushroom Wellington. Dancing to a live band follows the meal.
"I always look forward to wearing a tuxedo," said Peterson. "It's an elegant night."