FLC benefits from a little help from its friends

Fort Lewis College Foundation scholarship manager Sandy Jameson, left, helps Caroline Arlen and her husband, Lars Morris, bid online during the silent auction at TLC for FLC at the Henry Strater Theatre. This was the first year the auction was online. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Fort Lewis College Foundation scholarship manager Sandy Jameson, left, helps Caroline Arlen and her husband, Lars Morris, bid online during the silent auction at TLC for FLC at the Henry Strater Theatre. This was the first year the auction was online.

In these days of decreasing state funding and increasing tuition, there is no more important fundraiser for Fort Lewis College than TLC for FLC, with money raised going toward scholarships to help students get those oh-so-valuable degrees.

More than 250 people gathered April 24 for dinner at three of Durango’s favorite restaurants and a new-fangled silent auction. Silent auctions with a pen and paper for bidding are the norm, but the completely online auction is gaining strength. Margie Deane Gray, executive director of the Fort Lewis College Foundation, found a way to combine the two.

The 75 packages went online in March, with bids coming in all month. The final bidding took place after dinner at the Henry Strater Theatre, where the packages were set up to inspire more bidding, with a computer-generated cutoff of 7:30 p.m. on the nose. Computers and iPads were set up around the theater, and several savvy techno-bidders pulled out their own iPads and smartphones so they wouldn’t have to stand in line. (Note to self – bring your Kindle Fire next year.)

This meant local bidders were up against friends of Fort Lewis from across the country. Winning bids came in from Washington, D.C., California, Ohio, Florida and Massachusetts. The tally of visitors to the website was 653, with most going directly there and not through Google or some other search engine. This tends to indicate they were already FLC supporters.

Think about it – 250 attendees but 653 bidders. That’s definitely a win-win for FLC. People visited the website from all 50 states – and the District of Columbia. Not bad for the first such outing. And all that traffic led to a grand total raised of almost $40,000.

Gray did something else a little differently.

“People have enough stuff,” she said. “I wanted to make this auction about experiences.”

Boy, did she.

Bidders could choose a star party at the Old Fort Lewis Campus Planetarium with physics professor Charlie Hakes, with Gray donating the dinner. Or go on a private plein air painting session with Sharon Abshagen.

Deborah Uroda and Charlie Siegele will show some other camping enthusiasts how to master cooking with a Dutch oven outdoors and FLC President Dene Thomas and her husband, Gordon, will prepare a “delectable” dinner with accompanying “lively” dinner conversation.

I’ve had the pleasure of lunch and “playing” in jewelry designer Carol Salomon’s studio, and now some other lucky bidders can do it, too. Shanan Campbell Wells will open the second floor of her Sorrel Sky Gallery for an intimate dinner prepared by Red Snapper owner and head chef John Sheehan.

Andrew Gulliford will take some lucky folks on a historical driving tour from Durango to Silverton, and the irrepressible Duane Smith and Don Mapel will take a group bicycling around the Old Fort Lewis Campus. Talking about the old FLC campus, Beth LaShell put together a basket of prime meat products and included a gift voucher for some garden-fresh produce when it’s time to pick.

I knew Howard Wilson was a high-level poker player, but I didn’t know he had played in the World Series of Poker. He’s going to teach six players how to be card sharks at their next friendly poker game. (Just one letter makes a real difference: A card shark is an expert player, a card sharp is a cheater. Who knew?)

Other bidders will enjoy behind-the-scenes looks at The Durango Herald with Publisher Richard Ballantine; the Center of Southwest Studies with Curator Jeanne Brako; the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum with Executive Director Lynn Brittner; Ska Brewing Co. with Dave Thibodeau; state Legislature scene with Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; Mesa Verde National Park with Superintendent Cliff Spencer (talk about a perfect name for that job); and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory with Jeremy Kinney. (The latter comes with a chance to create new flavor sensations in the RMCF test kitchen and a box of chocolates. Yum.)

FLC faculty always has given generously, but this year, Gray added the enticement of raising scholarship money for students in their own disciplines. Keeping students you know in school is definitely a great inspiration.

Well, you get the idea. Of course, there were generous offers of a week in Hawaii courtesy of Foundation President Terry Bacon and his wife, Debra Parmenter, who graduated from FLC in 1970 and also sits on the foundation board; a stay at one of David Alford and Shirley Isgar’s properties – Blue Lake Ranch in Hesperus, Don Gaspar Inn in Santa Fe or La Casa Blanca in Farmington; wine, music, artwork, jewelry ... The only thing missing, or perhaps I should say the only people missing, were auctioneers Calvin and Pat Story, who got the evening off because there was no live auction.

Before the bidding got going, guests enjoyed a meal at either the Red Snapper, Seasons Rotisserie and Grill or the Mahogany Grille.

At the Snapper, guests filled their plates at its fantastic salad bar before selecting from entrées of: grilled salmon finished with a lemon-shallot sauce; pan-seared snapper served on a smoky crawfish étouffée; grilled hanger steak served with a shiitake mushroom and red-wine reduction; or chicken stuffed with goat cheese, toasted almonds, roasted red peppers and pesto, finished with a white-wine cream sauce.

For dessert, the restaurant was filled with “oohs and aahs” for ice-cream sandwiches made with French macaroons and homemade caramel ice cream.

At Seasons, dinner began with either the iceberg-wedge or Caesar salad before diners made their choices from three entrées: herb-crusted rotisserie pork loin paired with bacon potato salad, sautéed broccolini and natural au jus; a warm asparagus strudel served with a grilled vegetable skewer, lemon and arugula; or wood-grilled Angus hanger steak topped with a rosemary demi-glace and plated with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and fried onion strings. Dessert was a choice of Seasons tiramisu or warm berry cobbler.

Those of us like me who ended up at the Mahogany Grille enjoyed our dinners just as much. After choosing between the tomato bisque or spring greens, we did debated the merits of the award-winning Steak Herbert (Who is Herbert, and did he invent the delicious combination of flavors, or is the steak just named in his honor, like peach Melba?) with garlic mashers; rosemary-garlic chicken with fingerling potatoes, braised fennel and lemon au jus; or sautéed Scottish salmon with cranberry beurre blanc served with pomme purée. Dessert was a decadent triple chocolate mousse.

The Fort Lewis College Foundation awarded more than $350,000 to more than 350 students last year. The money raised at TLC will allow it to offer a similar amount to students for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Gray says the money also is important because it allows Admissions to attract top-notch students.

While it has a more public face when capital campaigns are under way, such as the Center of Southwest Studies, the Community Concert Hall and most recently, the Student Union,the foundation is on the job every day to make it possible financially for students to attend our “Campus in the Sky.”

So, a bravo goes out to Gray and her staff, Ana Zelle, Denise Dickinson, Jeff Jantz, Sue Kaiser, Tom Fuhrmark, Kim Lynch, Ross Nelson and Sandy Jameson.

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Enjoying the first of the May birthdays are Amelia Best, Katy Freiberger, Joe Wade Plunk, Rita Warfield, Charles McMillan, Jan Postler, Elnora Wells, Jamie Nelson, Adrian Taylor, Steve Parker, Janelle Farnam, Brendan Roche and Lucas Spaeder.

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John Wells talked to me recently about how he and everyone associated with the Wells Group were going to spend several hours April 21 to clean up the Animas River Trail – 6 miles of it, from Serious Texas Bar-B-Q south to 30th Street.

It wasn’t to toot his own horn, but because he hoped other organizations and businesses in Durango would take some time to spruce up Durango before the town is full of visitors.

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought how it behooves all of us to do our part in keeping beautiful La Plata County, well, beautiful. First and foremost, because it’s our responsibility as stewards of this wonderful place we call home.

Secondly, we want visitors to love it and stick around for an extra day or more. It’s their dollars that help our favorite restaurants keep cooking and all of our local businesses stay healthy and strong, whether or not they’re on the front lines of the tourist industry. Those tourist dollars are a big reason Durango isn’t the average little mountain town its size.

In a nutshell, it’s why we’re the best this and the Top 10 that.

The challenge has been issued.

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Dancing around the Maypole for their anniversaries – at least figuratively – are Bill and Jan Postler and Clark and Caroline Kinser.

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For information about upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs.

Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. If you are submitting an item for preview, please send it with briefs in the subject line and email it to herald@durangoherald.com.