Second time was the charm for Heart Ball planners, whose hopes for an outdoor event at Fort Worth Zoo got washed away from the April calendar. But the last day of May was glorious — and the American Heart Association's biggest annual fundraiser was worth the raincheck.
More than 500 patrons donned sunglasses and summer chic for a night of outdoor fun and indoor fundraising.
Upon arrival, party-goers were handed a cranberry-red signature cocktail made with vodka, champagne, cranberry juice, and lime — served in an elegant flute that they could take home as party favors.
Just inside the entrance was an early highlight of the night — the chance to feed the zoo's giraffes. Guests took photos, videos, and "boomerangs" as the giraffes gnawed on large lettuce leaves grabbed right from their hands. Bonus "boom" if you caught a long tongue sticking out. A few ostriches skittered about, too, no doubt hoping for an extra dinner-time treat but never stealing from the giraffes' riches.
At an outdoor cocktail party, guests got the first chance to bid on items from a big board, including luxury handbags, enticing getaways, and local dining experiences. Occasionally a smaller resident of the zoo would drop in (with a handler, of course) as a special guest. A wild turkey stood still just long enough for photo opps.
When doors opened to the big dinner tent, attendees enjoyed a meal of baby field greens salad with strawberries; chicken breast paired with crab cakes and vegetable-potato sides; and Southern-inspired pies and bread pudding for dessert.
Heart Ball chairs Micah and Craig Woodcook welcomed guests, and Cami Thompson, executive director of the AHA Fort Worth division, stressed the importance of the night.
“Each and every year we continue to be touched by the generosity of our community and their support of the Fort Worth Heart Ball,” she said. “We are thankful for their relentless pursuit of longer, healthier lives for all people in our community.”
Live auctioneer Bryan Weatherford got bidding going fast and furiously around the room. Among the "big gets?" A package from B&B Butchers called "Meet our Meat" that went for $7,800; a private food-and-wine dinner from chef Jon Bonnell that sold for $5,700; custom boots and rodeo tickets that sold for $6,000 three times; and a chance to drive Mercedes cars for a year that nabbed a whopping $15,000.
An "Open Your Heart Campaign" celebrated the young lives saved by medical advancements. Eleven-year-old survivor Kylie Sluder shared her personal heart and stroke story and gave attendees the chance to put a face to cardiovascular disease, which was met with a standing ovation. Guests got to open their pocketbooks one more time, contributing from $25,000 to $100. Tables with 100 percent participation enjoyed an extra champagne toast.
After the fundraising came more fun. The Signature Band filled the dance floor and kept it moving and grooving well into the night. One last surprise awaited on the way out: A party-favor bag that contained two tickets for a return-trip to the zoo.
Having fun throughout the night were attendees including Brant Martin, Natalie Martin, James Thompson, Cheryl Moore, Fred Moore, Cindy Reddell, Pat Reddell, Deanna Hoffman, Nick Hoffman, David Isom, Marcela Macedonio, Debbie Spinks, Sreenivas Gudimetla, Kim Gudimetla, Gregg Cobb, Lisa Cobb, Julie Hayes, Jim Eagle, Donna Kenny, Conor Rainbolt, Missy Walters, Craig Kelly, David Walters, Mike Cawood, Susan Cawood, Wayne Harrison, Caroline Harrison, Kerry Harrison, Jon Harrison, Sondra Isom, and Tim Schneider.
When numbers were tallied, this year’s Heart Ball raised more than $800,000, a record for the 24th annual event. Funds raised go directly toward cardiovascular research and heart health educational programs both locally and nationwide. Next year's Fort Worth Heart Ball will take place April 25, 2020.