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50th Annual Benedictine College Scholarship Ball, already a Top 10 fundraising event in the Kansas City area, eclipsed all records for attendance and donations in its return to an in-person event on February 26. With a record 1,000 gathered in the ballroom at the Overland Park Convention Center, the Ball also set records for sponsorships, Fund-A-Raven giving, and total fundraising. The program, co-chaired by Kevin and Colleen “Cocoa” O’Malley and Lené Westerman, featured produced videos, student features, speeches, and honorees that moved people to give far beyond expectations.
“We had more than a thousand people in the room, a record level of sponsorships, a record level in the Fund-A-Raven, and the highest fundraising total of all time, $2.1 million … over a million dollars more than the previous record,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis. “What an amazing outpouring of generosity!”
In addition to its entertainment and fundraising aspects, the Ball also features the presentation of the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict. The College established the award in 1969 to recognize alumni and friends who have supported charitable institutions, provided civic or religious leadership, and demonstrated professional excellence. This year, the prestigious award went to Lené Westerman and Larry and Janet Munro Wilcox. Their acceptance speeches can be viewed on the Scholarship Ball website. During her speech, Westerman established a new scholarship in honor of her family with a $25,000 check.
The Ball also featured speeches by the president and by a student. This year, senior Arturo Hernandez spoke about his journey from a small farm outside of Veracruz, Mexico, to the United States and Benedictine College. He told of his father’s death when he was a child, his mother’s struggles to support the family and provide a future for her children, and of his father’s words of instruction about riding a bicycle, “Keep your eyes facing forward. Palante, siempre palante! Forward, always forward.”
When he heard those words used at Benedictine College, the words of Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, who sent monks to the American west to establish a school in the service of God, Hernandez knew Benedictine was the place for him. (See the full speech here.)
“Through your generosity, people like me can fulfill their American dream,” Hernandez said. “Through your generosity, I will be the first in the family to graduate from college. Through your generosity, my mother’s dreams will be realized in me. So, tonight I say to every single one of you, on behalf of my mother and me, Gracias! Thank you! And remember, forward, always forward!”
President Minnis also mentioned the Archabbot in his speech, and used “forward, always forward” as a theme. He told of the success of the college in the past 15 years, mentioning the doubling of enrollment, the expansion of programs like engineering and architecture, and construction of new residence halls, academic buildings, and athletic facilities. He spoke of how the college would continue to move forward with the new vision to Transform Culture in America. (See the full speech here.)
“The answer has always been before us,” Minnis said. “It is our Mission of Community, Faith and Scholarship.
“In a world of loneliness and polarization, Community is the answer.
“In an age of hopelessness and incivility, Faith is the key.
“And in a ‘post-truth’ era that is information rich but analysis poor, Scholarship is the foundation.
“We are committed to bringing Community, Faith and Scholarship to the country to transform the culture. Because right now, Benedictine College has never been stronger, and the future has never looked brighter. We are at the dawn of a new age—a new Benedictine College that embraces the things of the past with a new vision for the future.
“And I’m asking you to join us to make an impact on the culture and the future of this country.”
Minnis spoke of Benedictine College as a “beacon of hope” in a troubled world.
“This hope is that through our mission of Community, Faith and Scholarship, culture will be transformed in America,” he said. “And that hope happens because of our students. And our students happen because of you.
“So, let’s together move this college Forward, Always Forward, Everywhere Forward—to provide hope for the future!”
The Fund-A-Raven portion of the Ball was hosted by sophomore Liza Trettel and junior Reed Levi. Their efforts saw an overwhelming response at the $25,000 giving level, bringing in close to $300,000 to kick off the donation “auction”. The excitement lasted through each level, with an incredible 69 donations at the $1,000 mark. Their work helped inspire a $500,000 surprise donation to the Fund-A-Raven in honor of Larry and Janet Wilcox.
The event wrapped up with dancing to live music by the Michael Beers Band. One of the most popular event bands in the region, the Michael Beers Band chose to hold its final performance at the Scholarship Ball. The band retires after 14 years as the event’s dance band.
Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is proud to have been named the best private college in Kansas by the Wall Street Journal, one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.