A touch of class at Toast of the Town

It’s hard to exaggerate the classiness of the Toast of the Town parties.

For more than 30 years, St. David’s Foundation has staged a batch of these small social gatherings, mostly in private homes. This spring, 20 or so.

Greg and Carmel Fenves at Toast of the Town for St. David’s Foundation.

The hosts pick up the tab for the food and drinks. So all the money goes directly to the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarships for students in the health science fields. The foundation triples the earnings, so the $500,000 raised so far this spring will produce $1.5 million for the students.

To date, 340 scholarships in the range of $7,500 a year — for a recipient’s entire undergrad and professional education — have gone out.

As you probably know, the Foundation, which recently moved its HQ to a quiet, modern building on Nueces Street, gives out something like $75 million year to area health initiatives, taken from the net of its profit/nonprofit medical centers.

Yes, that’s $75 million.

As always at the Toast parties, Foundation captain Earl Maxwell cheerfully re-introduces the concept behind the mentoring and money that go with the scholarships. Then one of the recipients talks.

This year, it was UT biochemistry major Jack Chang, speaking up at the lip of the Old Enfield pool of Kent Ferguson, owner of HealthCare Facilities Development Corp, and his Plainview-reared wife, Melissa Ferguson. Their Tudor Revival mansion dates back to the 1920s, but it was updated and expanded by previous residents, the family of tech leader Mike Maples, Sr.

The big draw this evening, after light dinner on the lawn, was UT president Greg Fenves, who gave a shortened version of his State of the University address. He lingered especially on the charges from a certain state figure that — what one publication recently called No 1 public university in the country — saddles its students with too much debt.

“Half our students graduate with no debt,” Fenves says. “The other half with an average of $23,000. And they almost universally say their education was well worth it. They get jobs. They go into the world prepared.”

One special treat for me: Sitting next to UT Athletic Director Chris Plonsky, one of the sharpest cookies on campus. She’s seen a lot since her arrival in 1982. And so, we had a lot to discuss …

What? You were expecting state secrets? That’s another column.


Author and athlete Tim Green pumps up BookSpring fans

Theater training helps. Days after winning an $11,000 Philanthropitch grant with theatrical flairEmily Ball Cicchini turned BookSpring‘s annual Storybook Heroes Luncheon into quite the efficient and effective show.

Kay Gooch and Tim Green at Storybook Heroes Luncheon for BookSpring.

Among those amplifying the nonprofit group’s efforts to give books to needy kids was rock star librarian Kay Gooch, previously profiled in these pages. One volunteer, Mindy Reed Gomillion, and one business, Keller Williams Realty International, walked away with the Storybook Hero laurels.

It was author and athlete Tim Green, however, who hit an inspirational “Home Run,” coincidently the title of his latest hit from HarperCollins Publishers.

After a career in the NFL and as a lawyer, Green pursued another childhood fantasy by becoming a writer. He’s put out more than 30 books for adults and youths. Green also speaks to schoolchildren 100 times a year, first about sports, then about reading.

He encourages 60 minutes of physical activity and 20 minutes of unrestricted reading a day. Green calls reading “mental weightlifting” and credits the practice with fostering kindness through empathy. He also recommended “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio.

If Green can’t sell you on the fundamental value of reading at an early age, nobody can.

Cicchini thinks big: She wants to provide 20 books each for al 75,000 needy kids in Central Texas.

Update: In a previous version of this post, Kay Gooch’s name was misspelled in the caption.