‘Night in New Orleans’

Celebrity Waiters pits husband/wife in quest to win

Dave and Fran Bennett will  have dueling tables and hope to raise a lot of money for Relay for Life. They are seen here as the “tourist” and the Mardi Gras girl.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Dave and Fran Bennett will have dueling tables and hope to raise a lot of money for Relay for Life. They are seen here as the “tourist” and the Mardi Gras girl.

Debby Curtis, chair of Blount County’s Relay for Life, will have her hands full at Celebrity Waiters.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Debby Curtis, chair of Blount County’s Relay for Life, will have her hands full at Celebrity Waiters.

When the 2011 Celebrity Waiters Relay for Life fundraiser happens, Fran and Dave Bennett will be taking part in a game of “guys against girls” to see who can raise the most money for cancer research.

The Bennetts are each serving as celebrity waiters, each as host of their own table, and each confident they will beat the other one in their fundraising efforts for Relay for Life.

The annual Celebrity Waiters event will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 2. The gala fundraiser will be in the Grand Foyer of the Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of Maryville College.

This is the third year for Celebrity Waiters, and the second year the event has been held at the Clayton Center. It started the year Dave Bennett was chair of the Relay campaign.

“We missed it last year and were invited back this year. Originally we were going to do one table together, but then he started filling it with his goofy guy friends,” Fran Bennett said. “So I decided to fill mine with wonderful women I enjoy. We are looking forward to beating them.”

Fran said several spouses are splitting between the two tables. “I have Susan Stout at my table, and he has Steve Stout. I have Donna Smith, and he has Mark “Smitty” Smith at his table,” she said. “Our table will be designed in true Mardi Gras color with purples and green and a theme of ‘Unmask the Cure.’”

Dave said all the men at his table will be dressed as Mardi Gras tourists. “I have a table full of outstanding ‘mature’ gentlemen who each, in their own way, give to this community,” he said. “We’re going to go as tourists like we’re in Las Vegas or at Mardi Gras. We’re going to have our flowered Hawaiian shirts and shorts with white socks and sandals.”

Fran said she and her husband have both been personally affected by cancer in the last few years. “My mother is a cancer-survivor, and Dave’s mother is a cancer survivor. I think everyone has a cancer story,” she said. “They’re either survivors or supporters.

Dave said Relay for Life is near and dear to his heart. “The year I chaired Relay is the year we started Celebrity Waiters, but it is more than that. Cancer has touched my life. My mother is a breast cancer survivor and fights that battle every day,” he said. “It is about raising money so people won’t have to hear those words, ‘You’ve got cancer,’ and fear it. We want a cure.”

Fran said volunteering with Relay for Life is gratifying because it gives people in the community a chance to be part of finding a cure for cancer. “We’re working to change the end of the story for everyone. By volunteering, it gives you a chance to be part of a happy ending.”

Dave said the June 3-4 Relay for Life event and the April 2 Celebrity Waiters event are a great opportunity for people to come and enjoy some good fellowship and food and compete to see who has the best table by raising the most money.

“One of things I love so much about being involved in Blount County and the community is that, no matter what it is, people of Blount County step up,” Dave said. “What Celebrity Waiters does is give you the opportunity to raise money, but it is also about the fellowship and coming together and celebrating.”

Dave said competing with his wife is an added bonus for the Bennett family. “I can tell you, she’s going down,” he said.

Debby Curtis, chair of the 2011 Relay for Life, said this is the first year the Celebrity Waiters has been planned as a themed event.

“Our theme this year is ‘A Night in New Orleans.’ Everything from the menu to the decor in the venue will be a Mardi Gras style theme,” she said. “We expect people will really enjoy the atmosphere and have a good time while they raise money to fight cancer.”

Originally the event was planned for late February or early March, so the Mardi Gras theme was a natural. When the earliest open date at the Clayton Center was April 2, Curtis said planners chose to stick with the ‘Night in New Orleans’ theme. “New Orleans is such a neat, fun place, and the event is a fun event. This theme captures all the festivities and fun of New Orleans.”

Curtis said the Celebrity Waiters event is different from other fundraisers. “We don’t sell tickets. We provide food and the entertainment and everything for the event and the waiters provide the guest list,” she said. “The guests come, have a nice meal, enjoy good entertainment, have fun, do a little dancing, and they tip their servers. The servers compete against each other to see which table brings in the most money.”

Curtis said most of the tables are hosted by two servers. The servers work together to get the food from the caterer to their guests.”

Some do extra things -- like selling chocolate kisses -- and raise money from folks who are sitting at other tables.

“We have two awards, one for the overall Celebrity Waiter of the Year, based on total dollars raised. The other is based on per capita fundraising. It is based on the average amount per guests at the table,” she said.

The entertainment this year is the group Smooth Groove. “They always get everyone up off their seats dancing and having a good time,” Curtis said.

For more information on Relay for Life or Celebrity Waiters, call 865-607-1261.

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