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WINE & ROSES GALA BENEFITS CANCER SUPPORT HOUSE

BY KIM MURDOCK // SPECIAL TO THE TIMES RECORD

"Fort Smith's premier fundraising event will delight with gourmet food, exceptional wines, a lively auction, an eclectic art experience and lively entertainment," according to a recent news release from the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House.

The 23rd annual Wine & Roses Gala is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 8 at the Cancer Support House, 3324 S. M St., and the black-tie optional event is like no other, said Debbie Kraus, publicity committee volunteer.

Then, the finale to the evening extraordinaire will be northwest Arkansas' ultimate dance band, Ultra Suede. The seven-member band will "take over the stage," Steffens said, and it will be "a concert to end the night" with dancing, fun and the joyful sounds of the band's music.The experience begins with valet parking and a "red-carpet welcome," said Susan Steffens, executive director of the Cancer Support House. From there, guests should not expect to simply take a seat and watch the festivities unfold. Instead, they will want to "experience all the sights, culinary delights and entertainment" dispersed throughout the house, she said. The 22,000 square feet of party space requires guests "to engage."

In between, dozens of beautifully arranged roses, tagged to honor or remember special people, adorn the house, Kraus said, thanks to Expressions Flowers, who donated more than 1,400 roses last year. Roses can be purchased online for $100 per dozen and collected after the event or the following day.

The evening will also include a drawing for a ladies Rolex watch, valued at $8,700, donated by Newton's Jewelers. Tickets for the drawing are $10 each, a book of six for $50 or a book of 13 for $100 and can be purchased from committee members or at the Cancer Support House.

The gala will also include live music, dancing, art, wine, food and an auction conducted by Rossi Morreale, a national television personality, former Arkansas Razorback wide receiver and Fort Smith native.
"Spectacular art" will be scattered about the house, according to the release. Artists featured this year include Candice Barry, Sydney Clayton, Kimberly Coates-Stewart, Jeannette Foreman, John Lasater, Amber E. Lea, Jimmy Leach, Paula Linder, Bitsy Newman, Lynn-Margaret Pace, Vicki Rumsey, Jason Sacran, Debra Sisson, Lynn Snider and Bob Snider. Half of the artists' proceeds that night will benefit the Cancer Support House, Steffens said.

The musical sounds of Lolly and Chris Swicegood, a husband and wife duet from Nashville performing a rock, blues, jazz, folk and other styles, and local harpist Holly Dickinson, will fill the air.

A dessert station on the second floor will consist of Bananas Foster, cherries jubilee, and a s'more chocolate fondue station.

Downstairs, a full cocktail style buffet of gourmet heavy appetizers catered by 21 West End and prepared by its chef, Paul Capel, will include blue cheese and leek beef tenderloin and cranberry and whole grain mustard turkey breast; bacon-wrapped quail with eggplant rollatini; duck confit crepes with blueberry compote; an artisan cheese board featuring Prairie breeze, derby sage, serano ham, prosciutto ham and smoked salmon; stuffed tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash; and Cajun shrimp flapjacks.

A collection of specialty wines will also be featured, thanks to Jim and Michael Hadley, owners of In Good Spirits.

The auction will be very entertaining, Kraus said, and will shift the evening into high gear, with national television personality, former Arkansas Razorback wide receiver and Fort Smith native Rossi Morreale returning as auctioneer.

Morreale has hosted more than 40 national television shows, including ABC's "Dating in the Dark," NBC's "Escape Routes," TLC's "Junkyard Wars" and FOX's game show "Temptation," as well as the Food Network's "Halloween Wars"; and he is producer/host for the Pursuit Channel's "American Airgunner."

Many within the community provide for the event, Kraus said, and "we're very grateful." The auction, which Kraus said is "very competitive," will feature dozens of specialty wines, adventures such as a Napa Valley Vacation, a private catered dinner and more.

No tickets are sold at the door, Steffens said; it is always a sold-out event. Tickets can be purchased at reynoldscancersupporthouse.org for $125 per person, with sponsorship options available.

A ladies Rolex watch, valued at $8,700, was donated by Newton's Jewelers, which has donated a Rolex watch each year for many years. Tickets will be sold for a chance to win the watch. The winner does not have to be present to win, and tickets can be purchased from committee members or at the Cancer Support House. Tickets are $10 each, or a book of six is $50 and a book of 13 is $100.

All proceeds will stay in the community, Steffens said, to support the "over 5,000 active cancer fighters and survivors, aged infant to 87 years," the center serves in Fort Smith and surrounding counties today, after 39 years.

When the first galas started, the Cancer Support House was in a "little house on Dodson Avenue," Kraus said. When the current house was built in 2000, the event was moved to the house — "inside those (very) walls where people are helped."

The Cancer Support House is the largest free-standing cancer support house in the country, Kraus said. Having the event at the house reassures donors that every penny is kept there.

"Wonderful weather" the last few years has allowed the celebration to spill outdoors into the garden, Kraus said, which is "so refreshing." The entire garden is tented, she said, and candle lighting, roses and food enhance the atmosphere.

23rd annual Wine & Roses Gala

When: 6:30 p.m. April 8

Where: The Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House, 3324 S. M St.

Admission is $125 per person with sponsorship options available. Tickets may be purchased at reynoldscancersupporthouse.org.