Chelsea’s Annual Gala: A Fundraiser and “Friend-Raiser” For the School

In May of 2008, Chelsea Academy held its first gala, Renaissance in Rappahannock, in the barn at Rappahannock Cellars. The event was Wendy Lee’s idea. She had the vision to clear out the barn, which was used for storage, and transform it into a lovely, rustic venue. She touted it as “a fundraiser and a friend-raiser” for the school, which at that time only had a handful of students and teachers.

I remember being on the planning committee for that very first gala. My contributions were suggesting that we have an open bar and recruiting my brother Joe to be the bartender. It was a Renaissance themed evening, with thirty-seven auction items and 140 guests. Fr. Hathaway and Steve Lee were the emcee and auctioneer. I remember borrowing a Shakespearean dress from the drama department of the school where I taught. As chair of the gala committee, Wendy wore her now famous Marie-Antoinette wig (which was not quite Renaissance, but she could pull it off!). Bill Ryan wrote a delightful one-act play that he called “The Books of St. Thomas More.” Bob and Amy Benyo and Carol Little prepared an incredible meal. Henry Wingate donated a portrait to the live auction. Many volunteers participated in the preparations. We had wondered if we could fill the seats, and many of the guests ended up being family members and friends that we recruited, promising them a great time at a winery. The event was a smashing success, an evening for all to remember!

Over the years, as the school has grown, the event has changed and grown as well. We soon outgrew the barn at the winery, and the uncertainty of the weather (which had proven to be unpredictable at times!) led us to move indoors to the Old Schoolhouse in Sperryville. We also moved the date from Mother’s Day weekend to the end of October. Eventually we found a closer-to-home venue at Christendom College. Moving the event from Rappahannock County required a name change, but we came up with Renaissance by the River, as a nod to Christendom’s location by the Shenandoah River and Thomas More’s home of Chelsea on the River Thames.

Over the years, guests gradually moved away from wearing Renaissance attire, we streamlined the entertainment, and Wendy retired her wig. And as we celebrate our tenth year, I can say with certainty that although the gala has changed over the years, there are some things that have become traditions. The delicious food, great wine, and even better company and camaraderie, and the school that the gala supports have been the staples that keep people coming back from year to year. The generosity of our guests has been a constant. And my brother Joe continues to serve drinks at the bar.

This year we are celebrating our Tenth Annual Gala, and we look forward to hosting a wonderful evening for the families and friends of Chelsea. Thank you to those who have been with us in the past, and welcome to those who may join us for the first time. We invite you all to join us at Renaissance by the River on October 21. Tickets are still available. We hope to see you there!

Post by: Mary Brand


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