Celebrity Waiters brings Mardi Gras to Maryville as Relay fundraiser

Mardi Gras came a little late to Blount County, but Relay for Life supporters didn’t seem to care. The 2011 Celebrity Waiters fundraiser for Relay, which will be June 3-4 at Maryville College, was held Saturday, April 2, at Clayton Center for the Arts and the whole evening boasted a Mardi Gras theme.

If there was any doubt of the theme or the good-time about to be had by all, Fran Bennett’s incredible table decoration -- complete with a swimming Beta fish -- erased all doubt and set the mood for a successful Celebrity Waiter evening. Competing with her husband, and beating him, Fran chose for her all-female guests to dress elegantly in black, representing the glitzier, stylish New Orleans scene. Dave went the tourist route, with his all-male guests dressed in flowered shirts and shorts.

Other tables also got into the spirit of the evening with beads, beads and more beads, authentic New Orleans pralines and masks. Candy Morgan and her husband, Dr. Pat Morgan, won the title of Celebrity Waiters 2011 by raising the most money that evening, almost $2,000, thanks to the guests at their table during the third annual Celebrity Waiters. Candy Morgan praised the guests at the table where she and her husband served. “We had a great table. We got people who were going to really enjoy the evening and have fun,” she said. Guests at her table included Dr. Hope and Bob Watson, Terry and Joe Gugliotta, Jason and Beth Pankratz and Dr. Drew Osborne and his fiancé, Paula Eriksson.

Candy said this was the second year they have served as celebrity waiters. “It is a very fun event and we love it,” she said. “There are a lot of charities that are close to my heart, but cancer has touched my family personally.”

Debby Curtis, 2011 Blount County Relay for Life event chair, said about $14,500 was brought in during Celebrity Waiters.

Curtis said she was thrilled with the turnout. “Obviously you always want more money but given these tough economic times, we feel the event was successful in a lot of ways, not just in money raised, but also in the enthusiasm of the crowd and the number of signatures we got on the Fight Back banner,” she said.

Curtis said the Fight Back banner shows the names of people in the community making a commitment to fight against cancer. “Their presence and participation in tipping the waiters generously accomplished that goal,” she said. “We will take those dollars and spend them on research and services.”

The Relay chair said there were a total of 18 tables set up for the event. “We had around 175 people, including our volunteers,” said Curtis.

Coming in second in money raised during the evening were John and Connie Huffman, who raised $1,881. Jeff Curtis and Misty Abele won third place and raised $1,555.

The game to decide the grand prize winners pitted the guests at each table who raised the most money against each other in a “luck of the draw” game. Each table winner took home a prize as the field was narrowed to three finalist -- Mark “Smitty” Smith, Dr. Ted Flickinger and Linda Hageman. The finalists were given 15 minutes to work the crowd at the tables for donations, as WATE-TV anchor and Celebrity Waiter master of ceremonies Gene Patterson conducted the count-down.

Winner was Smith, who took home the grand prize of a catered party with the John Titlow Band at the Smithview Pavilion valued $7,200. “All our consolation prizes and the grand prize were donated by generous individuals and businesses. “We gave out over $8,200 in prices that were donated,” Curtis said.

“I was completely shocked when I’m standing there looking around, and there’s three people left,” said Smith. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to get to have dinner at the Orangery,” Smith said, noting the third place prize.

Smith said he couldn’t believe it when it was announced he had beat out Flickinger and Hageman for raising the most money of any guest in the finals.

“I don’t ever win anything. The last time I won anything was 13 years ago when I somehow convinced the wife to marry me,” he said of his wife, Donna.

The Night with the John Titlow Band will be at the Smithview Pavilion with décor and clean up provided by the Flower Shop, entertainment provided by the John Titlow Band and the barbecue, sides, non-alcoholic beverages and deserts provided by Cherokee Millwright and Mechanical.

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