By Rebecca Reinbold
On Saturday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m. more than 230 St. John residents packed Westin Resort and Villas’ ballrooms, joining together for the 30th Annual Gifft Hill School Auction and celebrating the school as an integral part of the community.
The auction was full of excitement and positive energy, and raised more than $200,000 this year, allowing the school to continue to support its diverse student population.
“The event exceeded our expectations in every way and there are not enough ways to express our gratitude for the deep generosity of this community,” said Beth Jones, Director of Advancement at Gifft Hill School. “Every donation to the event — gift certificates, items, travel packages, jewelry, art, etc. — ensures that our school grows stronger and remains available to families who want to be part of the Gifft Hill School.”
The Westin generously donated the event space, staff, food and technology team. Guests kicked off the evening browsing items featured in the Art and Silent Auction with champagne and cocktails donated by Glazers Premier and Karye Carney of Sold on St. John, as well as a Moscow Mule bar donated by The Longboard.
Attendees mingled and enjoyed gourmet hors d’oeuvres prepared and served by the school’s Culinary Arts students while they bid on an array of packages and pieces donated by local businesses and artists. The art was curated by Priscilla Rivera Hintz de Knight and included a piece that Ensor Colon painted on site during the event that was sold in the live auction. The auction also included paintings, stepping stones and a quilt created by GHS students under the guidance of art teacher Rosemary Richards.
Dinner started with a salad of fresh greens that were grown by the GHS EARTH program and prepared and served by the students and Chef Lori Dudkin, followed by a dinner buffet prepared by the Westin.
Darron and Hope Meares hosted the live auction for the eighth consecutive year, visiting from South Carolina to donate their time and expertise. Peter Fortunato created and managed the online auction and served as the proxy bidder during the live auction.
Guests participated in the jewelry auction, a signature part of the evening, by purchasing $25 glasses of fine wine or champagne and receiving raffle numbers. Kate Swan won for the second year in a row, taking home a stunning pearl necklace donated by R&I Patton! The Meares also led attendees in the Wall of Wine game, another highlight of the event each year. Barbie Barry won the Wall of Wine, then donated it back. It was won a second time by Jim and Kate Swan and Rich Emmett, who bid on it and donated it back to be bid on again. Christie O’Neil was the final lucky winner of the wall, consisting of more than 65 bottles of fine wine.
Andy, Janet and Sophie Rutnik were this year’s event honorees, marking of their vision as one of the founding families of GHS and acknowledging their continued commitment through establishing the Endowment for Gifft Hill School by transferring the assets of the Ruby Rutnik Scholarship Fund to GHS.
Local videographer Steve Simonsen’s short film, which has become a heart-warming highlight of the auction each year, once again drew tears, laughter and joy from attendees who were touched by the smiling kids and tribute to the incredible family that is GHS. The video kicked off the paddle raise for the school’s Scholarship Fund, which was the most successful in the event’s history.
“Donors gave $103,000 in outright gifts to the scholarship fund during the paddle raise, which was mind-blowing and a testament to the deep commitment this community has to our school and equitable access to education,” said Jones.
The $5,000 level was launched with a donation by Jan and Jug Courlas in memory of their sister-in-law, Dr. Sharon Dineen Courlas. The $2,500 scholarship level was led by Holiday Homes of St. John, the Pearl Level Sponsor of the event.
Guests closed the evening out at Virgin Fire in Mongoose Junction, with an afterparty hosted and donated by owner Michael and Barbie Barry. Ian “DJ Top Notch” Samuel donated his talents and music for the dance party that continued the merriment and fun-filled evening late into the night.
“We’re so grateful to the volunteers who solicited donations, wrote up packages, ran errands, set up for and cleaned up after the event; to the students, parents and faculty who worked so hard the night of the event; and to the guests who attended and bid so enthusiastically on all of our auction packages,” said Molly Murrill, Assistant to the Director of Advancement. “It was a wonderful event, and we look forward to the 31st Annual Auction!”