Almost 200 Guests Dance Under the Stars To Raise $26,000 at Friends Gala

Butterfly Beach villa owners Cheryl and Dave McDaniel, who hosted the gala, accept a gift from Friends of VINP executive director Joe Kessler, right.

Almost 200 guests toasted the Friends of V.I. National Park while raising funds for the park’s non-profit partner at the organization’s seventh annual gala on Saturday night, February 5, at Dave and Cheryl McDaniel’s stunning Butterfly Beach villa on the Fish Bay waterfront.

Between gala tickets, tantalizing raffle packages and silent auction items, Friends of VINP netted more than $26,000 from the gala, according to the group’s development director Heather Ruhsam.

“We raised more than $26,000, which was the most we’ve ever made from a gala,” said Ruhsam. “We definitely beat our goal.”

The key to success was a combination of great volunteers and donations from island businesses, Ruhsam added.

“We had great people helping us with the raffle items and I think it was the best raffle we’ve ever had,” she said. “The packages we offered, like the ladies lunch and massage and the men’s day of fishing and a round of drinks, went over so well. People liked the packages versus the single items which we usually offer.”

“We tried to think outside of the box in terms of the raffle items,” Ruhsam said.

Some of the hottest items in the raffle were the restaurant packages — where one lucky winner enjoyed five or six dinners around Cruz Bay — filling the shoes of VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove for a day and tickets to the National Tree Lighting Ceremony hosted by the National Parks Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Several amazing pieces of jewelry by Alice Krall of Coral Bay Jewelers, Gerry Hill’s hand-crafted cutting boards, which were the talk of the gala, and Elaine Estern’s lionfish painting also garnered serious interest.

The night started on the right foot as guests dropping off their vehicles at the Westin Resort and Villas’ timeshare area were greeted with glasses of bubbly while awaiting shuttle service to the villa.

The evening improved as guests were awed by the native stonework and elegant balconies and courtyards which comprise the three-bedroom beach front villa Butterfly Beach.

Everything from the food to the cocktails and live entertainment was top-notch. Catered by Mathayom, passed hors d’oeuvres included fried pork belly, roasted summer vegetables and smoked shrimp. Seared duck breast, perfectly cooked mahi mahi, rice cakes and a salad of Josephine’s greens, were just a few of the many mouth-watering main entree offerings.

The combination of elegant fare and professional servers was a winning one for the gala.

“It was a Saturday night in February and we were just so fortunate to have professional waitstaff from some of the island’s top restaurants helping us at the event,” said Ruhsam. “We also had great chefs like Erica from Waterfront Bistro and Adam from Sun Dog and the Tap Room helping who took off a Saturday night in February to come and volunteer at the event.”

“The level of professionalism really showed in terms of food and service,” said the development director.

Despite a few light showers, the skies remained clear enough for guests to enjoy dinner in the open air courtyards and dance under the stars until after 11 p.m.

“The weather worked with us and the event space,” said Ruhsam. “There was a bit of rain early in the evening, but it cleared up just in time for dinner and dancing on the beach.”

Live music by Lem Callwood and friends had guests kicking off their high-heels to dance in the sand right at the water’s edge in Fish Bay.

“People did not want to leave the beach, they were having such a great time,” said the development director.

Two people who might have had the best time at the gala were the hosts themselves, Ruhsam added.

“The hosts had a fantastic time,” she said. “They felt like they made so many new friends and they really feel like they’re part of the community here now.”

Even Ruhsam was able to enjoy dinner and dance to a few songs on the waterfront, she explained.

“I had so many great people working with me and putting it together before-hand, that by the evening of the event everything started on time and then just happened like clockwork,” said Friend’s development director.

With no detail overlooked, Ruhsam even made sure guests had a little something special to take home. Before leaving the soiree, guests were given a canvas tote bag from Sugar Apple which included a package of Mathayom’s spicy smoky Java Booty Rub and pledge cards.

“People still have the opportunity to donate to Friends with the pledge cards which were included in the gift bags,” said Ruhsam.

The group’s next big fundraiser is its 8th Annual Beach-to-Beach Power Swim, set for Sunday, May 29.

For more information about Friends of VINP or to donate to the group, call 779-4940 or check out