Pat Irby knows enthusiasm when she sees it.
Irby is in her second year serving as president of the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center Guild.
The 21 guild members organize and put on the annual Heritage Happening Gala to raise money to support the continuing development of the Heritage Center and its extensive educational programs.
It is a cause popular with the community, says Irby. “It’s wonderful. I met a lady the other day and she said, ‘I want to be sure to get two tickets.’ The next day she brought me an auction item. I call that enthusiasm,” Irby said.
The 2011 Heritage Happening Gala is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 14. The Heritage Center is located on Highway 73 between the Townsend traffic light and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance.
Each year more than 300 supporters turn out for delicious food, music and the chance to bid in silent or live auctions on items varying from Elle designer sunglasses - which Irby says she always bids on - to fishing excursions, trips to weekend getaways as close as the Wilderness Experience of the Smokies and as far away as Orlando, Fla.
Guild member Sandi Burdick said Townsend Artisan Guild members have several pieces they have donated for the auction. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a doghouse before,” she said of one piece that impressed her. “We’re getting in a lot of good artwork.”
Irby, a retired school teacher from West Central Alabama, said she and her husband, Bill, have lived in Townsend for three years. She had a friend on the guild and was encouraged to join. “I was vice president the first year, and I’ve been president the past two years,” she said. “We’ve been fortunate with our sponsors -- they give so much. We have different levels of sponsorship. We also have great volunteers. They are everywhere during the gala, and they keep things running.”
The gala is held in a large tent adjacent to the Heritage Center. Auction items are situated near the tent so that the patrons can inspect and bid on them. Heritage Center executive director Bob Patterson enjoys seeing the excitement on the day of the gala.
“For me, the most fun is on Friday and Saturday morning when everything is set up,” said Patterson. “The tent goes up, and they bring in all the auction items and hang the art work,” he said. “The excitement reaches a peak at that point, as people start to see everything.”
Patterson says he already has his eye on what he wants. “We’ve got one of neatest items this year. It was donated by Connie Sullivan, and is a little girl’s tea table and tea set with all the fixings, including hats and feather boas so they can dress up,” he said. “It has wonderful wicker chairs and a table, and it is as cute as a bug. I thought, ‘I’ve got to buy that for my granddaughter.’”
If Patterson wants to make sure he gets the tea party -- or any other item in the auction -- there is a new feature to the silent auction bidders can take advantage of this year. The “Buy It Now” feature allows attendees to buy items outright at the Buy It Now price. Once someone does the Buy It Now option, the bidding for the item is closed.
Patterson praised the Guild members. “Janet Kolarik, head of the auction, said everything is in order and good to go,” he said. “They’ve got great auction items like a hand-made grandfather clock. We even have a stay at a home in Florida. It’s a restored church turned into a house, so it is a unique spot.”
The executive director encouraged folks to check out items for auction on the Heritage Center website. “Every year we always have great auction items, but this year there are a lot of thoughtful, one-of-a-kind items that are fairly unique,” he said.
Patterson said everyone can participate in the auction, even if they can’t attend the night of the gala. “Look on the website. If they can’t attend, they can still put in a bid,” he said.
Tickets to the Heritage Happening fundraiser are $100 per person and are available through Friday, May 11. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with the silent auction closing at 6:30 p.m. Dinner is a 7 p.m. and the live auction begins at 7:30 p.m.
Fund-A-Cause will also be repeated at this year’s Heritage Happening, during the live auction. The Fund-A-Cause allows for monetary donations to be collected to subsidize travel expenses for school groups that cannot afford to visit the Center. Last year, more than 8,000 students participated in the Center’s educational programs.
For more information, call 865-448-0044 or visit the www.gsmheritagecenter.org.