With the strong hint that North Texas was going to be the victim of a spring cold blast, Wings of Spring organizers were not taking any chances for the annual fundraiser for Literacy Achieves — a nonprofit adult literacy program — on the evening of Monday, April 1.
Instead of holding the event’s supper in Temple Emanu-El’s open-air courtyard, it was moved to a big meeting room inside. And, to dress up the space, a mammoth, two-story balloon centerpiece festooned with butterflies had been hung in the center. Joked Lee Papert, husband of Literacy Achieves Executive Director Sarah Papert: “We started blowing up the balloons last week.”
While guests like Linda Metcalf and Byron Harris, Melina and Michael Cain, Deborah and Don Stokes, Kaki and Shelton Hopkins, Frank Risch, Carol and Don Glendenning and Tom Dunning filled the hallway, others sat at tables after checking out the buffet lines. As tasty as the tenderloin looked, it proved to be a bit of a challenge for some diners. It seems that the only utensils provided were forks. As one guest sawed away with her fork, aiming to get the beef down to bite size, another was surprised to sample what appeared to be a confectionary stack of chocolate topped with kiwi sauce. Yum! But, it wasn’t a sweet-layered cake, after all; instead, it turned out to be a “sushi tower.” After getting over the initial shock, the guest admitted that it was very tasty — not to mention much easier to cut than his partner’s meat.
Across the room, meantime, Bobby Lyle was being congratulated on being selected to receive the Linz Award on Wednesday, April 17. … Lee Papert was accepting plaudits for his relatively new role as philanthropy officer for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. … Marnie and Kern Wildenthal were looking forward to attending the Saturday, April 13 unveiling of a life-sized statue of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the south Texas town of Cotulla, where LBJ was a young schoolteacher for Mexican-American children in the late 1920s. Seems Kern’s father Bryan Wildenthal, an economics professor and business manager at the time at Southwest State Teachers College (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, helped arrange for the future president to get the one-year teaching assignment. … Shirley Miller, sans husband Bob Miller, laughed that she had offered to donate her down-to-her-waist hair to some charity group, “but nobody wants gray hair.”
Soon enough, everyone repaired to the temple’s Stern Chapel for the evening’s formal program. Following a welcome by emcee Mike Sims, the temple’s immediate past president, the packed house enjoyed an invocation by Cantor Leslie Niren, who declared, “Jewish tradition encourages us to ask questions. How can we help make the world a better place?” Next up were Melissa and Barry McNeil, the Wings of Springs co-chairs. Barry recounted the history of Literacy Achieves, saying it has helped 11,000 students learn English, thanks to more than 400 volunteers. One of them is Gayle Johansen, the evening’s honorary chair, who teaches at Literacy Achieves while juggling family life and a thriving real estate career.
Then, after hearing from one of Gayle’s students — Mexico-born Margarita Rojas — tell how the program had helped her succeed in the U.S., a call for contributions was made. Kicked off with a $10,000 pledge from KPMG, the funding-drive total, which was shown on a big screen, had hit $29,973 half an hour into the program. That’s about when the evening’s musical entertainment, called “Piano Battle,” began. It featured two super-talented, classical pianists — Andreas Kern, who was clad in white, and Paul Cibis, wearing black — who sat at opposite pianos and did their best to one-up each other with their musical talent, not to mention their wit.
Andreas, for example, said: “Paul bought his first grand piano with an inheritance from his aunt. And she died under mysterious circumstances.” Shot back Paul: “Andreas had to apply to five different academies just to make sure he got into one!” Their performances, a series of pieces ranging from Chopin and Liszt to Schubert and Rachmaninoff, were equally entertaining. In the end, though, with the audience holding up cards that were black on one side and white on the other to indicate their winner’s choice for each “battle,” it appeared that the face-off would end in a tie. So, Sarah was called to the stage to make the final decision, and Paul emerged as the night’s big winner. Another victor was Literacy Achieves, which, according to the screen, had raked in commitments of more than $30,000 by evening’s end.