The Idlewild Club went dark during World War II. But in 1946, it came alive again with a dozen young debutantes. One of them was Nancy Ann Smith. Five years after “bowing” to Dallas society, she attended a charity ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Returning to Dallas, she realized that Dallas needed a similar fundraiser for Dallas children. In her suitcase was a sketch of a little girl that would become the symbol for her brainchild.
Pretty soon she gathered together a posse of gal/pals like Claire Ownby Benners, Mildred Nettle Bickel, Betty Butler, Katherine Callaway, Sally Carney, Phyllis Carter, Sally Otis Cassidy, Jo Cherry, Jo Ann Holland, Margaret Kervin, Ann O’Donnell, Neil Orand, Margaret Otis, Alma Ramsden, Marilyn Ray, Sharon Simons, Ann Thompson and Dale Wigley to be the founding members of her project — Crystal Charity Ball.
Within a year, Nancy and her ladies had become a force to be reckoned with. She got Sharon Simons’ husband, Pollard Simons, to provide office space at his Fine Arts Gallery on Cedar Springs; created an advisory board including Joe Lambert, Nancy Hamon and Margaret Hunt Hill; got a permit from the Better Business Bureau; and put together an ultra-formal ball at the Baker Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, December 6, 1952, for 350 with tickets going for a hefty $25 per person.
Nancy had put together a recipe of panache, glitz and glamour that put the event on the map nationally. Unlike the hoop-la of “Giant’s” portrayal of Texas big events, this one was sleek, elegant, intimate and fun. With celebrity pianist Hoagy Carmichael entertaining and Stanley Marcus and actors Greer Garson and Dan Dailey drawing names for the three door prizes, one of the highlights was the midnight drop of ceiling balloons containing prize-winning numbers and a late-night supper. Another was Dailey’s performing.
Still Nancy’s dad, Howell Smith, wasn’t certain that his little girl’s project would work. The country was still recovering from the war and, after all, start-up ventures were always risky. Why he even offered to cover expenses if a profit wasn’t made.
He needn’t have worried. That very first CCB sold out and provided a whopping $17,730 for The Dallas Polio Chapter. Remember this was back in 1952, when cars were selling for $1,700 and gas went for 20 cents.
From the start, it was a hands-on effort. The CCB office was closed, so the committee could create the decorations and entertainment rehearsals. According to the late Dale Wigley, “In those days we had to work hard for the money… I mean really scrounging! Making $15,000 was a big deal, engaging our efforts all year long. But we certainly did put the ball on the map, didn’t we?”
The next year more than 750 attended with guests arriving from New York, California and Europe for the ball that Nancy would chair once again. This time it resulted in an even larger check for the Children’s Development Center, a training school for children with emotional and mental challenges.
Over the years, CCB grew in size of membership (100) and guests (1,500), activities (10 Best Dressed Fashion Show), beneficiaries, corporate involvement, prestige and reputation. It was no longer a debutante’s dream. It was the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in fundraising circles, as well as a generous benefactor.
As for Nancy, the 1950s were also a turning point for her personally. The beautiful blonde married Dr. Buck J. Wynne and had two children, Howell Wynne and Nancy Wynne Saustad. Following his death in 1979, she was married to World War II hero Alfred Chandler in 1981 until his death in 2013. But all the while she watched her little project provide more than $131,244,558 for thousands and thousands of children.
It was announced that Nancy died Friday, December 15, having celebrated her 93rd birthday on December 3. But in the decades to come, her legacy will live on through her “brainchild” helping Dallas children.
Services are pending at this time with Sparkman Hillcrest Funeral Home.
* Photo provided by Crystal Charity Ball