13th Annual Gridiron Dinner a smashing success!

Patti Payne gives Dale a personal serenade in front of the crowd. (Click the image to view the Team Photogenic photo album)

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The Washington News Council’s “Toast and Roast” of Dale Chihuly at our 13th Annual Gridiron West Dinner on December 15 at Fremont Studios was a smashing success.

About 400 people enjoyed a raucous and rollicking evening of comedy, songs, videos, slideshows and affectionate “toasts” of Dale by a distinguished array of “toasters.”

Guests gathered at a reception in Studio B, where a special “Chihulyni” cocktail was served, along with other adult beverages and tasty hors-d’oeuvres. Then they moved into Studio A where the Cyclorama wall displayed scenes of Chihuly’s many outdoor exhibits around the world.

The Nowhere Men, Seattle’s favorite Beatles cover band, played tunes by the Fab Four as people found their tables. The band also played throughout the evening, singing several parody versions of Beatles songs written for the occasion.

Dinner, catered by Kaspar’s Special Events & Catering began with a stacked vegetable salad followed by an entrée of roasted turkey with apple dressing. Dessert was a gingerbread spice cake. “Chihuly Label” wines from Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla were served at every table, thanks to Mike Dunham and Ron Sevart of the Space Needle Corporation.

Every guest also received a coffee tumbler with the Washington News Council logo on one side and the “TAO of Journalism – Transparent, Accountable, Open” logo on the other side. The tumblers were provided by the WNC Board.

Mike Egan, who has Emceed the Gridiron Dinners for more than 10 years, welcomed the crowd and introduced Father Stephen Sundborg, president of Seattle University, to deliver the invocation.

Sue Nixon, talented jazz singer and Seattle Rotarian, opened the evening with a moving rendition of “America the Beautiful,” followed by a parody version of “Yesterday” that ended with “We believe in Chihuly.”

Glass centerpieces on each table were made by students at Tacoma’s Hilltop Artists program, which Dale started in 1994. The centerpieces were underwritten by a generous donation from Jeff and Susan Brotman. A video was shown explaining how the program helps at-risk kids in Tacoma. Greg Piercy and Travis Johnson of Hilltop then talked about what the program has meant to them.

Suzie Burke, WNC Chair, and I, WNC President and Executive Director, also welcomed the crowd and thanked table sponsors. “Mille Fiori” sponsors (at the $10,000 level) included Boeing, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Premera, and Susan Hutchison/Charles Simonyi Fund. Sponsors at the “Macchia” ($7,500) level included Chihuly Studio and the Space Needle Corporation. At the “Venetian” ($5,000) level: Fremont Dock Company, Lynden Inc., Pemco and U-Park Systems. Plus more than a dozen table sponsors at the “Seaform” ($3,000) level.

Suzie and I also thanked a wide range of people who helped make the event possible with generous in-kind or other donations. I noted the event would not have been possible without the help of Kathy Schrier, my executive assistant, and Monica Tracey, our event planner. I also thanked Christine Kehoe, Janet Makela, Billy O’Neill and Michael Tobiason of Chihuly Studio for all their help arranging the event, along with Dale and Leslie.

Mike Egan did his traditional Gridiron Slideshow, starting with shots of his own two children followed by Chihuly baby pictures. He went through a series of early Chihuly photos with gonzo verbal captions, followed by a “Chihuly…or Not Chihuly?” segment that showed real Chihuly works and then photos of a giant lava lamp and a portrait of dogs playing poker.

An informative video of Dale’s history was shown, done by Mark McDonnell and Peter West of Chihuly Studio.

“Toasters” took the stage in pairs, led by Jeff & Susan Brotman, who were dressed in bright “Chihuly Colors.” Jeff went to high-school and college with Dale, and told stories of wild times in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house, which he said sometimes resembled “Animal House.” He gave Dale a multi-colored neon scarf that Dale wore the rest of the night.

Sally Bagshaw and Tom Skerritt presented contrasting stories. Bagshaw described how the “Seattle Process” had handled Chihuly’s proposal to build a “Garden and Glass” exhibit at Seattle Center. Skerritt described how he and Dale went to the movies together and ended up with melting handfuls of Milk Duds, which Dale blew like glass. (Dale said later that Skerritt made it all up.)

Allen Shoup, founder of Chateau Ste. Michelle, wore a “Team Chihuly” hat during his remarks. Jim Bianco, president of Cell Therapeutics, wore a vibrantly colored T-shirt under his jacket.

Mimi Gates, former director of the Seattle Art Museum, said: “People throng to museums to see Dale Chihuly glass, filled with joy and awe.” She added: “Your artistic creativity is marvelous and adds immensely to the prestige of the Pacific Northwest.”

Patti Payne, a longtime friend of Dale and Leslie’s, paid tribute to them in a song: “The Way You Look Tonight.” Using a handheld microphone, she walked down to their front-row table and sang directly to Dale, who stood up for a kiss on the forehead. The crowd loved it.

Door prizes included five fabulous items. Winners’ names were drawn by Travis Johnson of Hilltop Artists. Lucky winners were Tara Ashton, Jane & David Davis, Robert Simon, Scott Shapiro and Virginia Larsen. They won, respectively, a “Bonfire Baskets” piece made by Chihuly; a Fremont Studios movie night for 30 people; two Alaska Airlines unrestricted round-trip tickets; dinner for eight at Kaspar’s with wines, and an overnight “Hot Glass” package at Hotel Murano in Tacoma, which includes a glass-blowing lesson.

The evening concluded with a tribute to Dale from Leslie, which featured a series of slides showing them together, often with their son Jackson. Leslie also brought their dog, Kobe, onstage along with a statue of a bulldog, Dale’s favorite breed.

Dale stood for some gracious closing remarks, inviting all dinner attendees to the opening of the new Garden and Glass exhibit in April. Slides of the current site were shown along with an artist’s rendition of the final exhibit.

When the program was over, VIP guests gathered for an After Party back in Studio B with sparkling champagne from Chateau Ste. Michelle and delicious chocolates donated by Theo Chocolate. Many people, including the Chihulys, lingered until almost midnight. A good time was had by all!

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