By Wicker Van Orsdel
The winter has disappeared faster than a cough drop and so did this year’s Variety Telethon on March 5, 6 and 7. After 37 years, it still remains a fantastic marathon fund-raiser. We raised a whopping $3,016,441! The Des Moines Variety tent is No. 1 in the nation for fund-raising per capita and No. 3 in world! That shouldn’t surprise anyone who lives in this generous town!
The kickoff for the Variety Telethon was March 5 with the Stars’ Dinner at the Polk County Convention Center. It was decorated in early-park-ranger theme. Yogi Bear and “Black Tie” don’t exactly jive, but we enjoyed the cleverness of checkered cloth picnic tables with marshmallows roasting over pseudo flames and smores. The ear-numbing drumming Isiserettes performed, and of course we also heard from several of the talented stars. I had the pleasure of introducing the new Miss World, Alexandria Mills from Kentucky (only three from the United States have ever won) and this year for the first time ever…we had a Mr. World (the world’s most desirable man) for the ladies. He was from Ireland and has a great Irish name, Kamal Ibriham. The dinner event is a night where all awards known to the universe are presented (which can make for a long evening). This year’s humanitarian award went to Susan and Bill Knapp. The crowd had thinned considerably by this time as many of them had a long weekend ahead of them.
The Telethon is a well-oiled machine with a formula that works. Stanley J. Reynolds and his entire family are an integral part of its success. It also depends on thousands of volunteers, community leaders, corporations, a phenomenal board of directors, celebrities, and countless giving hearts who say, “Yes, I can help the kids”!… and make that tote board grow every year. It was a pleasure to get to know Mark and Jill Oman, our honorary chairs for the telethon this year. They are a warm and caring couple who were happy to get involved, and inspired Variety with their passion for helping kids in need.
Last year, we moved the Telethon from Adventureland to the Polk County Convention Center downtown, where the space is much more user-friendly (and conveniently located in town!). We opened the Telethon with the usual Tony Hatch original Variety song at 7 p.m. March 5, and we were broadcast on WOI Channel 5 for the next six hours. For the first time, we did not go all through the night. Woo-hoo! I call this “The New and Improved Telethon.” The overnight people breathed a sigh of relief! We took a break from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. This was a great move. No one really calls and pledges beaucoup dollars between those hours (just the occasional insomniac or drunk).
Back on the air Sunday morning at 6 a.m., the day went by in a flash with all name-dropping VIP panels citing their generous pledges and the big checks coming in from HyVee, Fareway, Principal Charity Classic, Wells Fargo and Black Tie Event. After a weekend of crowd-pleasing entertainment from the likes of The Jay Weaver Band, Megan Bobo, Dallas Clark, Denise Shipler, Scott Smith, Kim Olson and Max Wellman (no cloggers this year), plus one more rendition of “Over the Rainbow”(courtesy of yours truly), the numbers grew to a crescendo and by 6 p.m. Sunday, we had crossed the $3 million mark. Another successful Telethon (although fairly tame compared to some past years). It was time to pick up the mess and head for the Kirkwood Lounge to celebrate the momentous event. It was a whirlwind weekend, and I am proud to have been a part of such a phenomenal group of caring individuals who make such a difference in the lives of Iowa kids. (However, I have been brain-spinning the Variety theme song for the past two weeks!) Pictures are below for more of the story.
Smores at the Park Ranger Telethon Stars Dinner March 4.
The talented Variety Telethon Orchestra.
Working “the Board” with Greg Hanna, Sheila Bell, Wicker and “Boss Lady” Susanne Reynolds.
Emma Sams, Amanda Krenz, Mark Oman, Rachel Pierce, David Anthony Higgins.
Jody Reynolds, past International Variety president, and Joanne Mangold, 2011 Variety president.
Miss World Alexandria Mills, Wicker, Mr. World Kamal Ibrahim.
Behind the scenes: Mary Cownie, Stan W. Reynolds, Dave Southwell.
Tony Hatch, Michael Danso, Meghan Bobo, Wicker, Stan J. Reynolds.