26th Annual GHS Gala Raises $200,000 for Tuition Assistance Fund

Hope Meares, standing at right, takes bid requests from an excited crowd at the GHS gala. All gala photos by Yelena Rogers

Kate Swan took home the R&I Patton black diamond necklace and earring set.

A sold out crowd of 230 guests packed the ballrooms of the Westin Resort and Villas on Saturday night, March 10, for the 26th annual Gifft Hill School gala.

While still tallying up the final amount raised, GHS officials were confident of reaching their $200,000 fundraising goal, explained the school’s development director assistant Molly Murrill.

“We’re still tallying up the amount days later,” Murrill said. “But we are confident that we have met our $200,000 goal so we’re excited about that.”
All of the funds raised at the gala go to GHS’ tuition assistance fund, which impacts each student at the St. John private school, according to Murrill.

“Everything we raise at the gala goes to the scholarship and tuition assistance fund,” she said. “Every student benefits from the fund because the cost of tuition is less than the cost of education. So even those students who are not on scholarships benefit from the tuition assistance fund.”

“And the $200,000 that we raised is actually about a quarter of what we need for the tuition assistance fund,” said Murrill.

One lucky gala-goer took home the bountiful wall of wine, above.

After winning the yellow Jeep Scrambler (in background) in a raffle drawing, part-time residents Ruby and Fernando Ramos donated the Jeep back to the school as a last minute auction.


The night’s success can be attributed to the amazing packages up for bid as well as the hard work of volunteers, parents, staff, Westin officials and the veteran auctioneers. The husband and wife auction team of Darron and Hope Meares was back again this year, marking the fourth year the couple has donated their skills to GHS.


“And they promised to be back next year,” said Murrill.

Top bid packages of the night included a luxurious Mediterranean cruise, two African safari trips, a tour of Italy and the popular Golden Ticket raffle, which allows the winner to choose any package of the evening.

“The big Golden Ticket winner this year was actually my mother Kay McCullough,” said Murrill. “She’s a GHS grandparent and she chose the stay at Caneel Bay Resort so they can stay there next time they visit.”

Featured artists of the gala were Eddie Bertrand, Annie Caswell, Robin Clair-Pitts, Elaine Estern, Rae Ellen Lee, Catherine Perry and Ara Cardew, Lucy Portlock, Mariah Scheer, Steve and Janet Simonsen, Sandi Stein, Carson Tredgett and Gayle Varlack.

“We had a lot of wonderful art,” said Murrill. “That part of the evening was chaired by Tina Petitto, one of our parents. This was her second year chairing the art part of the night and she did a wonderful job.”

“We had a huge crew of volunteers from students, parents and grandparents to just friends of the school and people who wanted to help,” Murrill said.

Starfish Market donated appetizers which were passed during the evening’s cocktail hour along with scrumptious fare grown and harvested right at GHS, explained Murrill.

“The theme of this year’s gala was ‘Bloom and Grow’ which referenced our Education and Resiliency Through Horticulture program in partnership with Iowa State University,” she said. “The whole look of the auction was a garden party with purple and green and lots of hints to the gardening theme. The students even served some food they had grown with the EARTH program.”

Freshly picked vegetables harvested at GHS topped bruschetta appetizers, which were also passed during the cocktail hour, Murrill added.

Guests paid $25 to sip on glasses of champagne and wine and get their names in the hat for a stunning black diamond necklace and earring set crafted and donated by R&I Patton Goldsmithing. In the end it was Kate Swan who walked away with the beautiful new addition to her jewelry collection.

Another beloved tradition at each GHS gala is Steve Simonsen’s always moving short film and this year was no exception, explained Murrill.

“Steve’s video was amazing and beautiful,” she said. “There was not a dry eye in the room and he did a lot of filming with the EARTH kids so the theme was continued there as well.”

Sixteen-year-old GHS senior Patrick Smith, the featured student speaker at this year’s gala, reminded the crowd of the importance of the tuition assistance fund.

“At GHS, students are not only taught school work everyday; they also learn many common life skills such as responsibility, respect and courage,” Smith told the crowd. “On behalf of the students, faculty and parents of GHS, I  would like to thank the Gifft Hill School, Mr. Fred Trayser, and other donors for helping us bloom and grow.”

“I ask that you continue to help this growing organization educate the youth of the Virgin Islands, so that the students may become leaders of the future,” said Smith. “On a personal note, to the person who supported my education at GHS, if you are here tonight, thank you so much.”

After the final bids and donations came in, the crowed moved over to La Plancha del Mar in Mongoose Junction for the after-party. Guests enjoyed additional raffles and danced to the sounds of DJ Liston Sprauve until the wee hours of the night.

It’s not too late to support GHS. For more information about the school, check out www.giffthillschool.org.