2018 Mad Hatter’s Tea’s “A Garden By The Sea” To Commemorate 30th Anniversary Of Women’s Council of The Dallas Arboretum Fundraiser

When Melissa Lewis agreed to be president of the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum, she called Venise Stuart. Melissa would only take the leadership position, if Venise agreed to chair the 2018 Mad Hatter’s Tea.

Melissa Lewis

Venise Stuart

After chairing the Dallas Symphony Orchestra League Deb ball, the Aware Affair and Les Femmes Du Monde’s Women of the Year, Venise was the right one to tap for the 30th anniversary of the annual tea that benefits the Council’s A Woman’s Garden.

At Tootsies on Thursday, November 16, Melissa and Venise had about 70 guests in for champagne and to learn about the plans for the spring fashion show.

Before the announcements were made, Venise said that she wanted the annual fashion show and luncheon to be an elegant affair along the lines of the grand days when the ultra-rich sought the cool breezes of Newport in the summer.

When the event was first launched in 1987, it was simply a seated tea with Virginia Nick, Margaret McDermott, Mary Nell Rogers, Barbara Lake and Carol Ann Brown on the terrace of the Camp House with a regatta sailing on White Rock in the background. As one person described it, “Nobody had ever done anything like that. It was like we were in a movie. They had just restored the Camp Estate. It was a simple but elegant affair. It was like Downton Abby. Nobody asked you for anything. It was just a beautiful afternoon.”

Over the years, change was afoot. It was held in different locations, designers like the late Frank Olive attended, fashion shows were added and the hat judgings. In recent years, the tea has settled into a champagne reception in Ginsburg Plaza and the fashion show and live auction in Rosine Hall followed by a seated luncheon on the terrace overlooking the grounds.  

Nerissa von Helpenstill

Lynn Dealey and Linda Ivy

Dyann Skelton and Emilynn Wilson

Linda Burk

With the 70 guests including Emilynn Wilson, Linda and Steve Ivy, Dyann Skelton, Jocelyn White, Donna Darling, Claire Cunningham, Kay Weeks, Barbara Bingham and Tea founder Carol Ann Brown, the twosome announced that Linda Burk would be the honorary chair and that Tootsies under the leadership of Nerissa von Helpenstill and Dustin Holcomb would be providing the fashions with Jan Strimple producing the show on Thursday, April 12.

A Garden by the Sea by Lynn Dealey

Then they unveiled the graphics designed by Lynn Dealey with the theme “A Garden By The Sea.”

JUST IN: 30th Anniversary Mad Hatter’s Tea Theme, Date And Plans Revealed

Last night 2018 Mad Hatter’s Tea Chair Venise Stuart announced plans for the annual fundraiser benefiting the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum‘s A Woman’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum.

Melissa Lewis

Venise Stuart

On the ground level of Tootsies, Venise revealed that the 30th anniversary would be a salute to the grandeur and elegance of a bygone era.

A Garden By The Sea*

Women’s Council of the Arboretum President Melissa Lewis stressed it was not a Gatsby-period theme. Rather think of the Vanderbilts summered in Newport at The Breakers, Marble House and Rough Point, when the magnificent estates enjoyed the cool breezes.  

To visually explain the feel, Melissa and Venise unveiled the graphic designed by Lynn Dealey that benefited the “A Garden By The Sea” theme perfectly.

Serving at honorary chair will be Linda Burk, who has been a longtime supporter of the Arboretum.

The fashion show of Tootsies fashions and luncheon will take place on Thursday, April 12, at the Arboretum under the direction of Jan Strimple.

As for the chapeau judging details, stay tuned.

* Graphic credit: Lynn Dealey

Mad Hatter’s “Under The Tuscan Sun” Reveal Party Had Loads Of Surprises And Rachel Zoe Name Dropping

With just five months to prepare their dazzling headpieces, the Maddest Hatters gathered at Tootsies on Thursday, November 17. Besides celebrating any occasion connected with the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum, the guests were there to learn the details for the Thursday, April 27th Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Arboretum.

Dyann Skelton, Melissa Lewis and Emilynn Wilson

Yes, the date was important because, unlike a few years back when guests shivered in near-freezing temperatures, Women’s Council President Melissa Lewis and Event Chair Linda Spina picked a date in late April when frost will be long gone. It also allows more time to prepare those hats for showing and competing.

Linda Spina and Lynn Dealey

Under The Tuscan Sun*

But the big news was the event’s theme. This news was the one that warmed the hearts and glue guns of hat designers. Drum roll. The theme for the 29th Mad Hatter’s Tea will be “Under the Tuscan Sun.” No wonder the gals picked a sun-friendly date and artist Lynn Dealey’s sunflowers artwork took full advantage of the theme.

But wait, there was still more news and it was a real head turner. Thanks to Tootsies’ Nerissa von Helpenstill and the Mad Hatters brain trust, super-duper special guest will be fashion designer, author, business woman, nuclear scientist Rachel Zoe. (Okay, so maybe not that last one about the nuclear scientist, but she’s everything else and so much more.) Is anyone surprised that Mad Hatters fashion sponsor Tootsies carries Rachel’s line of fashions? Nah!

Sharla Bush and Amy Warren

While a couple of the guests (mostly guys) looked a little baffled about the younger crowd getting downright thrilled over Rachel’s participation, they’ll wise up by the big day, especially if they check out The Zoe Report.

Adding to the namedropping of the occasion, it was revealed that Amy Warren and her daughter Amanda Hill would serve as honorary co-chairs thanks to their buddy Mad Hatter’s Co-Chair/Warren buddy/McKinney shop keeper Sharla Bush.

But there was even more good news. Individual tickets are available now at $350 via the Women’s Council website. Later in the spring a limited number of tickets will be made available for $250. But who wants to wait and take a chance on missing the fashion show produced by Jan Strimple, a seated luncheon overlooking the Arboretum grounds, and being seen on the scene?

Proceeds from the event will “grow and maintain A Woman’s Garden.”

* Graphic courtesy of Lynn Dealey

Family Gateway’s 2012 Celebrity Waiter Luncheon Ramped Up Its Raucous Status With Chaotic Results And Riotous Fun

Two years ago the Celebrity Waiter Luncheon was a cute little affair with a dozen local celebs working for tips. Kim Fischer led a group of gals in a spontaneous “Baby Bump,” and polo-playing Vaughn Miller rode Brendan Higgins around one of the Ritz-Carlton ballrooms with 150 guests looking on. Luncheon Chair Kristi Bare was thrilled that this first-time venture earned $55,000 for Family Gateway.

Last year Co-chairs Maggie Cooke Kipp and Shay Geyer more than doubled the guest and waiter count. Instead of ramping up the activity one or two cautious steps, the luncheon was the topic du jour for weeks and months to come. Why, there were those who claimed they could hear Steve Kemble leading the guests in “YMCA” during poor old Mike Modano‘s farewell press conference in the next ballroom. The walls shook and a legend was created.

The only problem with a legend is keeping up the legend. That was the issue facing returning Co-chairs Maggie and Shay. Could they actually top last year? Or, would it be a snore in comparison?

The twosome were taking on the challenge without hesitation. They combined all three Ritz ballrooms, arranged for around 50 waiters, upped the guest count to more than 450, and had one lengthy main stage in the middle of the room and four mini-stages in the corners of the ballroom.

Rhonda Sargent Chamber’s table

Veteran waiters dressed up their tables with all types of goodies. They just knew that in order to get tips, they had to impress. Rhonda Sargent Chambers draped pashminas around chairs and had gift bags filled with Laura Mercier makeup products and jewelry.

In keeping with the tradition of the past, the waiters arrived around 9:30 to prep with makeup artists and camaraderie in a meeting room. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, by the time all the waiters arrived, the room seemed like a size six sausage-wrap dressed for a full-figured gal. Any wallflower or sorta-shy-type didn’t stand a chance in this crowd.

One of the waiters had even had a banner made to add to the decor, but the Ritz folks wouldn’t allow them to hang it. However, for $75 the Ritz staff would post it on poles. The fee was paid and the sign was displayed.

Maggie Cooke Kipp, Faye Briggs, Scott Murray and Shay Geyer

As Maggie, Shay and emcees Scott Murray and Steve Kemble started to explain the POA, someone announced that Honorary Chair Faye Briggs had arrived. The applauding crowd made way for the petite patron saint of celebrity waiters. All wanted their picture taken with her.

2012 Celebrity Waiters

But then it was time for the annual celeb group photo and there was no room in the prep area, so an adjacent empty room was opened up. Like college kids at Padre Island, the crowd partied their way from room to room. With Faye seated in the very middle, photos were taken.

D’Andra Simmons, Jeremy Lock and Pamela Martin-Duarte

Then the celebs’ official cocktail hour was underway. D’Andra Simmons was introducing her new boyfriend, Master Sergeant Jeremy Lock to one and all. He’s a six-time winner of the Military Photographer of the Year. . . Matt Nordgren was in the hallway getting friendly with Sydney Kaplan. . . Jane McGarry was catching up with old buddy Brendan Higgins. . . It got so loud in the room that you couldn’t even hear Dee Lincoln laugh!

Daylon Pereira, Sydney Kaplan and Matt Nordgren

In the meantime, the guests were checking out the silent auction items and each other in the lobby outside the ballroom.  Some were comparing notes on Thursday’s overload of fashion experiences (Crystal Charity Ball Fashion Show & Luncheon and Fashion’s Night Out); others were looking forward to the formal launch of the social season with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra gala Saturday night.  

But as soon as the ballroom doors opened, the guests quickly made their way to their tables like children to a Christmas tree on the 25th. They all knew surprises were in store.

On the main stage, Scott welcomed all saying that “this is one of the most fun, exciting events. We’re here to have fun.” After a brief summary of Family Gateway’s program including the fact that on any night, 3,000 children are on the streets of Dallas, the first cannon blast exploded in the room with the arrival of Steve K.

Running up on the stage, he pointed out Faye Briggs seated at a front row table, saying, “She’s such a special person. Thank you so much for everything you do.”

Steve Kemble and Teresa Frosini

The ballroom lights then dimmed for a video to be shown explaining how waiters earned tips from guests. Beyond the ballroom doors, cheers from the waiting waiters were heard. Following the video, with the lights still turned down, slides of the waiters appeared on the screen. Hardly a dozen pictures had been shown when two doors at the far end of the ballroom opened to a nonstop flow of manic celebs. Some headed to their tables, but the multitude seemed to go straight to a stage, dancing to “Call Me Maybe” and then “Celebrate.” Rhonda, Courtney Kerr and Maria Sullivan danced on one of the mini-stages near their tables. Jewel Shona Gilbert joined them, waving her boa around.

Even guests got into the action. Or, rather, were drafted. Realtor Doris Jacobs found herself dancing on the main stage between Karen Lukin and LeeAnne Locken. Courtney left the mini-stage and headed to the big-time main stage. She waved a sign reading “Courtney Loves Family Gateway” as if she were a presidential candidate looking for votes.  

Karen Lukin, Doris Jacobs and LeeAnne Locken

Great! The luncheon started where the last one left off, with raucous singing and dancing. Now it was time for the waiters to sell silverware for tips and perform requested acts of embarrassment. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. There were savvy veteran guests like Lynn Dealey, who brought their own knives and forks. But throughout the rest of the day there were flashmobs of celeb waiters back on stage, dancing wildly. It was starting to take on the appearance of a Celebrity Entertainers Luncheon.

Instead of past luncheons, where the emcee would announce the next stunt to be performed for a tip, the developments seemed more like a three-ring circus with no rings. The roof was being raised along with the much-needed funds.

According to Family Gateway Executive Director Rob Alberts, last year’s event netted “right under $100,000,” but the demand for Family Gateway services had increased 500% in the last two years in terms of the number of families served. This day’s luncheon was the organization’s major single event. But Rob also admitted that the Celebrity Waiter Luncheon was not the norm. As he stood in the back of the room watching the over-the-top antics, he admitted that he had earlier told his staff, “The train just left the station. All we can do now is hold on.”

Hunter Sullivan and and Janet Ivy

Benny Black did a lap dance for a female guest on stage. . .Crooner Hunter Sullivan earned $150 serenading Janet Ivy. . . One of the guy waiters did an impression of Ethel Merman singing Happy Birthday. . . A fully-clothed Teresa Frosini belly danced. . . Dallas police celebrity Rich Emberlin made a thong out of yellow caution tape, when he wasn’t handcuffing people including a major law firm partner . . . Brendan chop-chopped a board with his hand. . . Reality TV

50 Shades of Fabulous waiters

personality Connie Dieb and her Fifty Shades of Fabulous entourage commandeered the mini-stage near the screen. . . Marco Rivera and Ashanti Blaize did 15 pushups on stage. . . Hamilton Sneed, Dawn Neufeld and Yolanda Banks hip-hop danced on stage. . . NFL types Marc Colombo and Ryan Neufeld did whatever they wanted. . . Dan Pritchett sans his usual hat

Jackie Pittman and Ty Treadway

brought his guitar for strumming. . . Ty Treadway, who had donned pink rabbit ears and a matching hula skirt, got on stage and slowly started stripping items off. To the disappointment of many of the ladies at his table, he stopped at opening his shirt. New mom Jackie Pittman immediately jumped up on stage for a photo with the bare-chested hunk. . . Jody Dean started to do the Centipede Dance and ended up being wheelbarrowed by LeeAnne Locken. Afterwards, Jody grabbed his stomach, confessing, “You don’t do that if you’re wearing a belt buckle.”

First-time waiter Terri Provencal admitted to being overwhelmed, saying, “Next year I’ll be a guest. I’m not good at being a waiter.”

Unfortunately, Honorary Chair Faye, who had been applauded by the celebs and treated like a princess during the lunch, was met with reality at the valet stand. She found herself among those waiting for more than half an hour for her car. Ah, how fleeting the place of honorary chair can be.

For more photos, check out the MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.