Elizabeth and Eric Gambrell looked happy. Pausing outside the Chantilly Ballroom at the Hilton Anatole, where the 33rd annual La Fiesta de las Seis Banderas Presentation Gala was about to get underway on Saturday, June 9, the couple was impressed by how many people had shown up for the event.
“It’s our biggest crowd ever—1,030!” said Elizabeth, who was co-chairing the 2018 La Fiesta Committee with Anne Besser. “The girls are really excited. And the boys really warmed up to it over the last week,” continued Elizabeth, resplendent in a red gown by Oscar de la Renta. “I’m excited to see Spain tonight.”
She was referring to the theme of the fundraising gala—co-chaired by Mary Parker and Pam Stegenga—which was the culture and history of the Kingdom of Spain, one of six countries to have flown a flag over Texas. Titled “Exploring Colores de Espana,” the program was intended to pay homage to Spain’s art, architecture, landscapes and seascapes.
The event wasn’t designed merely to see the 40 La Fiesta Duchesses take their bows on the Anatole stage, though that certainly was the main attraction. It was also to raise money to give to local charitable organizations. Over the last 32 years, La Fiesta has donated more than $8.3 million to such groups.
Inside the Chantilly, where the tables were clad elegantly in white, red, and aqua/blue, event photographer James French was perched on a tall ladder, shooting the official group portrait of the escorts standing onstage—once he got them to quit cutting up, that is. (“Hands up!” James shouted sharply. Retorted the guys: “Don’t shoot!”) Then the Duchesses—a whole lot less rowdy—filed in obediently for their portrait.
Out in the lobby, meantime, the Duchesses’ friends and family members had gathered, greeting old pals and catching up. Sarah and Thad Smith, for example, had come to support Duchess Gracie Hunt, who would be escorted by Jack Ware Kozmetsky. Gala Co-Chair Mary was with her daughter, Rachel Gill, while Polly McKeithen and Kathy Sockwell were studying the lay of the land, with good reason: they would be next year’s La Fiesta chairs. Others spotted in the crowd included Ann and Will Adamson, Elise McVeigh, Libby Hunt, Kate Meyer (in Halston Heritage), Rebecca James, Tavia Hunt (in Naeem Khan), Kim and Terry Quinn, Susan Stone with Kit Stone, Natalie (in Richard Brooks) and C.J. Lorio, Abigail Smith, Mikaela Adams and Carlee Apel.
Then, all too soon, it seemed, it was time for the dinner and the presentation, which got kicked off with the escorts entering the ballroom in pairs to the stage and a couple in costume performing a flamenco dance.
Following the introduction of each of the escorts (Blake Beckman, Ernest Beecherl, Bennett Brock, Ethan Cherry, Rob Crow, Jack Doherty, Jack Fain III, Brennan Fewin, Giff Giffin IV, Barrett Graham, Logan Gwinn, Marshall Hammack, Baron Holmes, Scott Kennedy, Jack Kozmetsky, Bennett Landen, Matthew Lodwick, Cooper Marchetto, Kyle Massimilian, Cy McCullough, Quillin McKenney, Will McPherson, Griffin McVeigh, Davis Milton, Tres Page III, Field Parsons, Parker Quinn, Carver Ramey, Cam Ruk, Jack Sell, Michael Stegenga, Jack Toohey, David Turner III, Jack Vandermeer, Chris Walker, Babe Walker IV, Eli Ware, Jon Welfelt, Will Whitlock and Hudson Wood), the gentlemen took their places in chairs on the floor to the right of the staging. Under the expert guidance of Emcee Al Raya, groups of eight Duchesses were presented representing various duchies.
One by one each Duchess (Elizabeth Armistead, Erin Arthur, Maddie Basso, Grace Bellman, Virginia Carlile, Carly Cooper, Caroline Cooper, Beth Copeland, Natalie Dargene, Alex Echols, Kara Fronterhouse, Kate Gioldasis, Victoria Gregory, Becca Hayhurst, Neva Henderson, Amanda Hodak, Jenny Beth Humann, Gracie Hunt, Claire Johnson, Caroline Keith, Sydney Kilpatrick, Mary Sullins Lancaster, Abigail Lindwall, Katherine Lorio, Mira Martin, Avery Mercurio, Landry Myers, Margaret Petty, Elizabeth Reid, Flora Richards, Brooke Rothwell, Claire Sarfatis, Maryellen Salter, Kyla Sayre, Grace Sloan, Sarah Stone, Elizabeth Tedford, Madeline Thomas, Paige Walters and Sophie Ward) and the man presenting the Duchess—usually her father— entered the stage so the young lady could make her bow. After she was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek and a rose, the escort took over, ushering her to her place on the multi-layered stage.
As the presentation went on, Al’s description of the duchesses went from crystal clear in the earlier part of the program to less so, due to the chattering of the guests.
After the last grouping exited the stage, the grand finale took place, with 40 couples being presented en masse and then parading to the dance floor to celebrate bows well done.
Funds raised from the 2018 gala were to be distributed to these beneficiaries: Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas, C.A.R.E. Dallas, Connecting Point of Park Cities, Dallas Children’s Theater, The Elisa Project, Friends of the Highland Park Library, Friends of the University Park Public Library, Highland Park Education Foundation, Highland Park Literary Festival, and HP Arts. Other beneficiaries included several student organizations from Highland Park High School and the Park Cities Heritage House at Dallas Heritage Village.
For a look at all the Duchesses, their escorts and the fiesta fun, check MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.