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‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ all weekend

Jackie Oros, head of school at Mountain Middle School, catches up with new board president Erin Patla, center, during the school’s second annual Valentine’s Day Gala at the Henry Strater Theatre. The school is excited to have received a $50,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Herald

Jackie Oros, head of school at Mountain Middle School, catches up with new board president Erin Patla, center, during the school’s second annual Valentine’s Day Gala at the Henry Strater Theatre. The school is excited to have received a $50,000 matching grant from an anonymous donor.

Durango was in full-swing Valentine’s Day mode over the weekend.

Of course, the highlight of my weekend was being honored by the Durango Arts Center as a 2013 Sweetheart of the Arts along with Maureen May and Judith Reynolds. I should hasten to add they’re both artists as well as supporters of the arts, while my role is to be our art community’s No. 1 Fan.

While we were the honorees, the most important part of the evening was that it was a fundraiser for the Durango Arts Center, which we all three consider a pivotal organization in the community. It was wonderful to hear that the event sold out, because that was the whole purpose, but a number of people decided discretion was the watchword and decided not to take the risk of traveling on such a stormy night.

Kudos go out to the organizing committee, who had been working on the event since July. Chairman Terry Swan and members Julia Dodd, Karren Little, Judy Hook, Karen Thompson, Lisa Mackey, Kathy Myrick, Diane Panelli, Jeannie Berger, Mary Lyn Ballantine, Theresa Carson, Peggy Zemach and Diane Welle, who came on board at the last minute to coordinate the decorations. (I was also wearing a Diane Welle original for the theatrically elegant theme.)

Five of the most talented cooks in town, all members of Durango Friends of the Arts, made a smorgasbord of delights for the cocktail-reception portion of the evening. President Carol Bruno prepared meatballs, shrimp cocktail, roast beef with aioli on baguette, a chopped tomato salsa with chips and what are arguably the best deviled eggs ever. The secret, she tells me, is the addition of chopped olives. (She deviled 10 dozen eggs, and it took almost nine hours. Now that’s generosity of spirit.)

Carol Treat brought corned beef rolls (mini-Reubens), fried chicken wings and goat cheese pie. She and her husband, Gary, made the firefighters at Durango Fire & Rescue Authority Station No. 6 very happy with a donation of gourmet leftovers.

Pat Lorenzen had been out of town, but that didn’t stop her from making a delicious chile relleno pie and coming to help serve. Susie Ammann, who drafted her husband, Dan, to help work, prepared drunken sailors, also known as sausages cooked with beer, Dijon mustard and barbecue sauce, a hot artichoke-crab dip and veggie platters.

Deborah Uroda rounded out the cooking quintet with salmon torte, stuffed chicken breast served with a killer roasted red pepper sauce and dill-pickled carrots.

Not only did the crowd give them five forks up, I personally cannot thank them enough for their dedication to throwing a party to remember.

A MAJical cocktail of rosé wine with elderberry juice was the special drink of the evening, named in our honor. Star Liquors and Ska Brewing were the sweethearts of the potent potables.

Swan served as master of ceremonies, and his tribute to kick off the entertainment was eloquent and heartwarming. People say I have a great memory, but he remembered details from a conversation we had several years ago, which was pretty amazing.

Traci Lyn Thomas got us off to a rousing start as she sang “I Can Cook Too” from “On the Town” and “Astonishing,” from “Little Women the Musical,” accompanied by the ever generous Scott Hagler, who also designed the commemorative program.

Jules Masterjohn wrote a lovely homage to May, and May’s sister Mary Johnson, from Chicago, read My Fat Ass, an autobiographical piece that had us both in stitches and tears. May is one of 15 children, with five sisters, and the sisters all came for the party. May clearly isn’t the only member of her family who inherited acting chops.

The other sisters who traveled from Illinois to be here were Liz White from Waukegan, Catherine Fenger from Lake Villa and Ellen Ley from Grayslake. The last of the six sisters, Ginny Dignum, also lives in Durango, and we can thank her for enticing May from the Midwest.

May’s husband, Paul Pennington, was also on hand to cheer her on.

Judy Hook knows her dear friend (and mine) Judith Reynolds quite well. From the moment she walked out with a blown up version of Reynolds’ famous cartoon cat, she spoke with caring and humor, including a fun jab at a Letter to the Editor that ran after a review a Durango Herald reader didn’t much like.

Reynolds had requested a percussion performance as part of her segment, and Fort Lewis College professor Jonathan Latta delivered in spades. He first performed a Bach Courante before bringing some of his students on stage for a percussion arrangement of “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck. It was utterly stunning.

Latta, Kyle Hollerbach and Tyler Colle were on marimba, Cooper Travis mastered the triangle and Cassie Robel added the haunting glockenspiel. I have to say, for the second consecutive year, I think the FLC students stole the show.

Herald Publisher Richard Ballantine told my story of being an enthusiastic cheerleader for the arts as encouraged by my mother, Kathy Butler. In the first of three performances of the evening, three of last year’s Sweethearts of the Arts took to the stage. With Linda Mack on the piano, Rochelle Mann on flute and Gemma Kavanagh singing, they presented “Lo! Here the Gentle Lark” by Sir Henry Bishop, later returning with a ravishing rendition of “Over the Rainbow” before finishing with an aria by Handel, “Meine Seele, Hört Im Sehen.”

I don’t know how we’re going to follow that next year.

I had requested a performance by Half and Half, a new barbershop quartet that features Carleen Utterback, Ricci Dawson, Niles Bruno and a member of my family, Matt Kramer.

They learned two new songs for the evening, “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” which was the grand finale of the evening. Those were favorites in my family, particularly after my father, Charlie Butler, suffered traumatic brain injuries in a car accident almost 20 years ago. He sang them many times, and I mean many times a day after his injuries, and I thought I had heard them more than enough, thank you. But it meant the world to hear them again on this special night.

The other thing that meant the world was the fact that my cousin Sarah Sumner and “nieces” Laura Nass, Julia Nass and Meredith Nass got there for my part amid attending the memorials for family friend Peter Carver.

The evening ended with a presentation of engraved crystal hearts for the Sweethearts, chocolate chip cookies courtesy of the DoubleTree Hotel and chocolates by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

I must close with a story of an historic rescue. The way events like this make money is by having sponsors, and, through an unfortunate series of circumstances, the planned sponsor for Sweethearts of the Arts had to drop out at the last minute. Thanks to Bank of Colorado, which stepped up as the sponsor this year after the commemorative program already had gone to print. And the bank already has committed to a $2,500 matching grant for the event next year. Now, that’s a sweetheart!

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Warming their hands over their birthday candles are Emily McCardle, Madeline Shaline, Greg Jamison, Robin Brodsky, Mitch Guffey, Bobbe Kraayenbrink, Virginia Peterson, Jo Ann Sanderfer, Randy Black, Arvella Higby, Mary Jane Hood, Ruth Mikicas, Katy Pickard, Miriam Bonkowske, Brenda Nelson, Joey Kloepfer, Lu Leidy and Lisa Schwinghammer.

Belated greetings go out to Roger Buslee for reaching the august age of 86.

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On Friday, Mountain Middle School held its second annual Valentine’s Day Gala at the Henry Strater Theatre. While quaffing pomegranate martinis, guests did some spirited bidding on a wide variety of silent auction items. In addition to some wonderful vacations in warm – stress the warm – destinations such as Mexico and Hawaii, each class had put together its own themed baskets. The students really got into it, inspired, perhaps, by the lure of an ice cream social for the class whose basket brought in the most moolah.

Yours truly is always on the lookout for smart innovations at fundraisers, and MMS had a great one. I can often be seen rooting around in my purse looking for my bidding number when I see something I just have to have. (I should note that I’d be bankrupt if I bid at every single event I attend, so it takes something really cool and potentially affordable.) But at the door of this event, attendees got a wristband with their number on it. I can generally find my wrist, so that solves the problem easy peasy.

While the event was adults-only, the school’s students provided a wide array of entertainment, particularly cool when you think how socially awkward most of us were in our middle school years. Annie Lowe, Autumn Ford and McKenzie James gave poetry readings – of their own poetry. Alex Williams danced. Emily Vierling, Emily Williams and teacher Mark Walser performed in a string trio. Teachers Mike Madden, Walser and Todd Macon accompanied some of the many students who sang and/or played instruments, including Abbey Allsopp; Ella Brown; Taylor Park; Robby Overfield; Amada Hotchkiss; T.J. Rifkin; Lucas, Mason and Logan Stettler; Skylar Smith; Cameron Cunningham; Curtis Salinger; Dylan King; Liam Foster; Campbell Brown and the school’s Glee Club. (I spilled some pomegranate martini on my program, and I’m running out of space, so, alas, I can’t name all the performers. But you get the picture.)

Organizing committee members were Jackie Hart, development chairwoman of the board; Shannon Smith, fundraising chairwoman of the Parent Teacher Student Organization; Jessica Wheeler; Theresa Murphy and Laura Miller. The ladies can be proud to have brought in $16,800. MMS Board President Erin Patla convinced a generous anonymous donor to double his or her matching grant to $50,000, so fundraising will now gear up in earnest to fulfill that match.

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Talk about pressure for these husbands, who have to be überromantic for anniversaries that fall on or near Valentine’s Day – Randy and Jeanine Puskas, Lynn and Jo Weger, Ken and Mary Ellen Portzmonsen, Tom and Marian Townsend, Thomas and Marna Burnett and John and Pati Sandhaus.

Sweethearts of the Arts honorees Maureen May, left, and Judith Reynolds were all dolled up at the celebration at the Durango Arts Center. The women, along with Durango Herald Neighbors columnist Ann Butler, were recognized for their support of the arts. Enlarge photo

Photos courtesy of Jonas Grushkin/Photogenesis

Sweethearts of the Arts honorees Maureen May, left, and Judith Reynolds were all dolled up at the celebration at the Durango Arts Center. The women, along with Durango Herald Neighbors columnist Ann Butler, were recognized for their support of the arts.