It’s hard to exaggerate the classiness of the Toast of the Town parties.
For many years, the St. David’s Foundation has staged a batch of these small social gatherings, mostly in private homes. This spring, 20 or so. The hosts pick up the tab for the food and drinks, meaning that all donations go directly to the St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarships for students in the health science fields. The foundation kicks in double the amount raised, so the approximately $500,000 brought in so far this year 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 gains of its profit and nonprofit medical centers.
Yes, $75 million.
At Toast parties, Foundation captain Earl Maxwell cheerfully reintroduces the concept behind the mentoring and money that go with the scholarships. Then one of the recipients talks.
This time, it was UT biochemistry major Jack Chang, who spoke by 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 a 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 the 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 has seen a lot since her arrival in 1982. And so we had a lot to discuss …
What? You were expecting state secrets? That will be another column.
Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria
It rained all afternoon. A late email arrived: “We have a tent.” OK, we’ll try the third annual Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria.
Miraculously, the 100-year-old villa and its grounds, part home to the Contemporary Austin and Marcus Sculpture Park, was wrapped in a pink-golden glow at dusk.
Guests dressed imaginatively. Several wore galoshes. They sipped rosy drinks on the lakeside terraces and swooned at the palpable enchantment.
Dinner was served in a tent on the peninsula. Almost everyone took advantage of golf carts that slid through the thick mud. I walked along the verge.
Wine and water flowed. Guests chatted. Then we sat down to a divine light meal from chef Larry Maguire from Maguire Moorman Hospitality (which includes Jeffrey’s, Clark’s …). The standout was melt-in-your-mouth peppered ahi tuna, which rivaled any other party fare from this season.
Then came the auction. When I spied the suggested prices, I almost choked on my ahi: $20,000, $50,000, $80,000 and the like for lovely but modest pieces of contemporary art. They sold like hotcakes. Some serious collectors under that tent.
Don’t know the final take, but the museum is doing well after receiving more than $20 million for its unbuilt former downtown site — it is renovating another, the Jones Center — and taking in $9 million from the Marcus Foundation.
Caught up with educator and institutional memory Judith Sims, especially regarding her childhood and youth in Austin. Also exchanged social notes with Kathy Blackwell, editor of Austin Way and former American-Statesman senior editor.
Blackwell, whose stories are crisp and captivating, may now officially know more about the current Austin social scene than I do.
No Such Thing as a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic
It all comes together.
State Sen. Kirk Watson‘s “10 Goals in 10 Years.” The Dell Medical School at the University of Texas.
The Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. The Central Health plan to integrate community care with the new medical giants. The medical research startups intended for the Innovation Zone and highlighted by the recent Innovation Awards.
And then there’s People’s Community Clinic, supported hugely by the St. David’s Foundation. It seems to embody all the goals of the new health crusade, including the idea of taking care of a community, not just an individual.
During the annual There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel, keynote speaker Elena Marks, impressive president and CEO of the $1 billion Episcopal Health Foundation, showed chart after chart proving that we spend too much on fixing patients because we don’t spend enough on fixing communities.
One video illustrated it all: A family repeatedly returned to People’s with severe insect bites. Instead of just treating the symptoms, the clinic and its legal partners did some investigating and found that their dilapidated apartment had no air conditioning or screens on the windows. By getting the complex’s owner to fix the building, they fixed a community. And saved money in the long run.
Accepting the W. Neal Kocurek Health Advocacy Award was Sen. Watson himself — funny, energetic, self-deprecating and capable of condensing complex ideas into the clearest, most forceful statements.
The take for the lunch: $290,000.
Boys and Girls Cubs of the Austin Area
It was enough just to hear all the great data.
How the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area has grown from three clubs to 26 in the past 15 years. How they’ve partnered with Austin ISD, Del Valle ISD, HACA and Southwest Key Programs. How they serve 12,000 kids a year, and how 100 percent of their members graduate to the next academic level.
Yet for fans of the Longhorns’ women sports, the best came last.
Always expansive emcee Brian Jones interviewed Jody Conradt, Karen Aston and Chris Plonsky, who all contributed to the University of Texas women’s basketball team’s 1,000 wins.
I could have listened for hours, but one bit of data stuck in my brain: 99 percent of Coach Conradt’s students graduated.