What do puppies, quilts, wine collections and raffles have in common? You will experience them all at nearly every annual O’Neal Benefit. “Common” is not a typical word used as of late and as we trudge through a historic pandemic, we turn a new leaf and for the first time ever, we host our 50th Benefit online and virtual.
The largest single fundraising event for the School, throughout the years it has served as one of the major social events of the community while also providing necessary revenue for the School’s operating budget.
Monte Carlos to Start
To the best of our knowledge, founding parents and trustees Mary Toerge and Jane Huffines came up with the idea to host a Monte Carlo benefit for Wallace O’Neal Day School in the very first year of the School’s existence. In full disclosure, its contribution to the operating budget was by helping to keep the School open for the remainder of the school year. The inaugural Monte Carlo benefit was held on January 29, 1972 at the Country Club of North Carolina. Toerge and Huffines were interior decorators by trade and it showed.
Alice Robbins was one of the first three teachers and later went on to be a trustee, head of upper school, college counselor as well as interim headmaster. “My mouth almost dropped when I saw how beautiful it was,” reflects Alice. “I have attended many nice events across the country, and I have never attended one so glamourous as the School’s first Monte Carlo. There were silver candelabras with flowers intertwined in them on every table.” A newspaper article says that every lady guest was given a bottle of perfume. There was champagne and live music. In addition to the gambling, there were drawings for 17 different items, including two cars and a custom ring of topaz and gold from the Fiskins. There was also an auction, which was the highest revenue generating activity of the event. The Monte Carlo was held at the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC) because it was private and the Feds could not visit the property to investigate the gambling activities involved. “The auction item that I remember the most was the 10 steers that the Franz family donated,” reflects Alice. She went on to say that there was tremendous energy and spirit during the event. “The whole community got behind this great school and they did everything they could to help out,” says Alice.
Printed in the program a message from the co-chairwomen Huffines and Toerge states:
The premise on which this school was founded was not one of isolating a few children from others but rather of providing the best possible education to any child who could meet the standards set by the finest schools in existence.
In these crucial times, the molding of a child, through education, at this stage of his development, will have a lasting effect on this life. With smaller classes, individual attention, more and better student-teacher relationships, and closer parent-teacher relationships, a child can grow to his fullest capacity of intelligence, creativity, depth of character and humanness. Therefore, this kind of an education is the greatest gift we can give our children, and it will, in turn help to build a better community and a better world.
Thank you for your generous support of our school, and we trust you will become more interested in it, as it grows, and continue to support it for the sake of this generation and the ones to follow.
Alice went on to say that the Monte Carlo was a big draw for many years. There was good attendance, and the movers and shakers were always present. The organizers of the school benefits and the annual hospital ball often crossed over.
As time went on, the Monte Carlo theme showed its age and the auction segment started to grow. Many great items have been donated and auctioned off. From autographed sports items, to trips, concerts, gourmet dinners as well as puppies, quilts, and wine collections; great donors and strong bidders have always come through for the School.
Venues have changed. Drawings have included jewelry, $10,000, cars and now a 50/50 cash raffle. An auction “Preview” was introduced where people could come bid on the silent auction items the day before the event while different student classes sang for entertainment.
Fabulous at 40
In 2011, Forty and Fabulous – O’Neal’s 40th Benefit introduced the “Fund a Need” component focusing on a specific item, program or facility at the School for funds to be raised as a live auction item. The first initiative was professional development for the teachers. This Benefit also generated a tremendous net revenue of $225,000 – a 30% jump from the year before. There were an incredible 450 items in the silent segment. The live auction was full of energy particularly when attendees watched in awe a full out battle for backstage passes to a Black-Eyed Peas concert. In a press release on the event, Auction Director Lynn Melton stated, “You could feel the electricity in the air. This event continues to be a positive reflection of the community’s support for O’Neal. The night was magical and truly ‘Forty and Fabulous’!”
Traditionally, there were battles for silent auction items as well. The annual “PreK Quilt” always landed in a bidding tug-of-war. Autographed Carolina Hurricanes hockey sticks were other items where one would witness a group of 2 or 3 eager individuals standing around the stick and its bid card all battling to put down the last bid in the final seconds of the silent auction segment.
Bid by Phone
With technological advances, in 2015, the online silent auction debuted where bids were made from your mobile phone or computer at home. The bidding battles transitioned online was a turning point for O’Neal’s Annual Benefit as silent auction revenue increased substantially that year. There is something to be said for pushing a button on your device to stay ahead no matter your location.
A Virtual Moment
As our 2020 O’Neal Magazine featured, the School has been thrown many lemons by way of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has managed to make lemonade from the turn of events. O’Neal’s 50th Annual Benefit in 2021 was a very successful completely virtual live auction… and again in 2022.
A New Chapter
With the first 50 years behind us, as well as a pandemic, we joyously return to the in-person event and look to forward to continuing this great tradition. Join us on February 11th at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
Falcons Fly to 50
O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.
Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388