By Ann Miller Baker
Imagine being part of the team that helped to save young Josalyn Kaldenberg’s arm, and being thanked with Josalyn’s own two-handed gift: her performance on the piano.
Guests at the 2019 Magnolia Ball to benefit Moffitt’s Foundation didn’t have to close their eyes and dream. Immediately after viewing a video version of Josalyn’s story, they heard and saw her perform live in the ballroom of the Tampa Marriott Water Street.
It was an electric moment for a signature event that has raised more than $46 million throughout the years for Moffitt’s cancer-fighting efforts. And it was completely fitting, as Magnolia Ball donors are part of the Moffitt team, helping to underwrite research of new treatments that benefit patients like Josalyn.
Moffitt’s Magnolia Ball got its start in 1994. The first gala, held at the Tampa Yacht Club, raised $80,000 for the Hope Lodge Program aimed at assisting out-of-town patients. Since then, the ball’s beneficiaries have broadened to focus on Moffitt’s research and treatment efforts.
This year’s sold-out event raised $3.5 million, thanks in large part to generous donors who accepted the challenge to match a $1 million gift from event co-chairs Lesa France Kennedy and Bill Christy. The International Speedway Corporation CEO and her health care entrepreneur fiancé have been Magnolia Ball mainstays ever since Kennedy became part of Moffitt’s national Board of Advisors in 2012. In addition to their $1 million match challenge this year, the couple helped to boost the ball’s auction income by donating an exclusive NASCAR experience package and a getaway to their Snowmass, Colorado, vacation home.
Foundation special events coordinator Liz Flach says ball chairs bring more than generous gifts. “It’s really that personal touch from them; sharing their passion for the cancer center and specifically for this event to help it grow.” By sharing their enthusiasm within their personal network, chairs bring new attendees into the Magnolia Ball fold. Flach adds that they also bring new elements to the event, like this year’s lively after-party fun.
Guests of the black-tie event arrive to a cocktail hour, mingling as they check out silent auction items and a Mystery Wine Wall with numbered corks for a $25 purchase that match bottles on display. After dinner, they’re treated to an inspiring program of speakers and a patient testimonial before the live auction gets underway with spirited bidding. Then it’s dance time, while nationally known musical acts like this year’s guest performers Kool & The Gang put on an hour-long show. Afterward, this year’s attendees could grab a quick Krispy Kreme from the doughnut bar to fuel more dancing at the after-party with a DJ spinning hits. That meant some of this year’s 700 guests who arrived at the Marriott Water Street at 6 p.m. didn’t leave until after midnight.
No doubt they left tired, but Flach hopes they also left inspired. “They are a key part of something that’s huge,” she explains. “Moffitt Cancer Center is doing so many incredible things, and it’s amazing for everyone in that room to feel that they are making a difference.”