There were happy trails winding all over Great Escape on Saturday evening as 650 “Frontier Wranglers” and 200 “Little Pioneers” got their Western on for the Annual Double H Ranch Gala. The ranch is all about the kids, and the gala is no exception. Pint-size attendees enjoyed a special kid-friendly dinner, game tickets, and of course, the rides, accompanied by their volunteer chaperones, Queensbury school teachers.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the Wild West, moms, dads and friends sauntered into the tented silent auction to enjoy cocktails and tasty food truck fare. Event chairs Karen Paulo and Kevin Johnson mingled, welcoming guests. Marcie Fraser and Liz Bishop swapped stories, while Ann Marie Theresa and Staaz Gron chatted with Sam and Linda Palazzole. Michele and Ron Riggi, among the night’s honorary chairs, were “Wanted” in a jail cell photo booth. Nearby, Rob Saba and Mark Hogan caught up with Kevin and Sheri Lyons, and Steve and Sandy Foley posed for a family photo with their son Stephen and his girlfriend, Kaela Bonaquista.
There were some incredible items to peruse, including a pink and white striped golf cart donated by Five Star Golf Cars, which “sold” for $5,000. Honorary Chair Patty Riggi kept her eye, and bids, on a framed shadow box of The Hustler, complete with Jackie Gleason’s signature and a pool ball autographed by Paul Newman. She took it home for $3,500. The highest silent bid, however, was $7,000 written by Danele Delsignore on an American Pharoah package that included one of the Triple Crown Winner’s bridles, donated by Ashford Farm, with framed memorabilia from Skip Dickstein.
Another popular item was a 12-foot-long, hand-built farm table made completely of reclaimed wood. Michael Della Bella had the winning bid of $1,800, but Double H will continue to reap rewards from this one. The artist, Jeremy Iaquinto of the Orange Olive, took several orders at the event and is donating 50% of each table to the ranch.
Back by popular demand, the Stones Mountain Band got boots tappin’, kicking the party into full swing. Seen were Steve and Sue Bouchey, Lois Celeste, Conrad and Katherine Fleischman, Melissa Murdock, Chris and Kelly Armer, Marcia MacDonald, Adin Heinritz, Mark and Sara Mannix, Andrew and Catherine Ratto, Brian and Anne Walker, Dan Czech and Nancy Smith with her son, Colby. Several Double H board members were spotted too, including Vice Chair Ed Mitzen, with his wife Lisa; Christina Fitzgerald, who stopped for a photo with Honorary Chair Jane Golub; Walt Robb, shopping the silent auction with his ever-gracious wife Anne; and Charlene Wood with Jim Paratore. Wood’s daughter, Chelsea Hoopes Silver, was also there, with friends Eddie and Nicole Pieper, and Kerry and Megan Mayo.
The silent auction closing at 7:30 p.m. signaled hungry cowpokes that this year’s “Happy Trails” buffet was ready and waiting, thanks to Mazzone Hospitality. Dinner transitioned into a much anticipated live auction including an Italian cooking class from Mazzone and a stay at the Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado. Richard Pitbladdo bid $10,000 to win a 2017 Kentucky Derby experience donated by Paul and Kelly Zanella, with four tickets for the Oaks and the Derby, and tours of two signature farms in Bluegrass Country. An oversized, Adirondack-style wooden bench flanked by hand-carved bears now warms the home of Marianne and Bill LaRoche.
One of the highlights of this evening is always the mission auction to sponsor a camper. It is $2,100 to support a single child for one week at Double H, though. Hoping to include more sponsors by encouraging participation at a lower level, Board Member Vince Riggi, with fellow Honorary Chair Neil Golub and Victor Hershaft, generously offered to match every $175 donation made toward the ranch’s mission on Saturday. This truly spurred sponsorships and while a final tally isn’t available yet, the amount raised was extraordinary.
Double H is fortunate to have local and national partnerships providing time, talent and treasure for the gala. There were more than 100 volunteers onsite, many from AYCO’s Community Teamworks. Travelers Insurance, Gap and Banana Republic also lent their employees to the effort. Abercrombie & Fitch outfitted every attendee, young and old, with a souvenir t-shirt.
Ben & Jerry’s, a national sponsor of SeriousFun Camps like Double H, scooped the night away at their ice cream cart, but the generosity doesn’t melt there. Year-round, every purchase of “Tonight Dough with Jimmy Fallon” results in a direct donation to the camps.
A special shout-out to the local stars and cow bosses who led the cattle call for support including Price Chopper/Market 32, Turbine Services, Daniel R. Lewis, POWMAT, Regina and John Ryan, Richard Yulman, Kasselman Solar, New York Long Term Care Brokers, Dave Bigler, ESP Foundation and Linda and Mike Toohey.
The mission of the Double H Ranch is to provide specialized programs and year-round support for children and their families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. Co-founded by Charles R. Wood and Paul Newman, Double H has been providing memorable camp experiences in a safe and empowering environment since 1993. The gala is their largest fundraising endeavor each year.