By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Thirty eight years ago, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Olive Louise Dallavis, then-president of Avila, received an unexpected 4-legged gift from some area businessmen. Jimmy C., a 1977 American Royal Grand Champion Steer named for President Jimmy Carter, was the inspiration for the university’s major fund raising event, the Steer Dinner.
Back in 1977, the school cafeteria was decorated moderately, tables set and steaks were served. An auction was held, with guests bidding on additional steaks. The funds raised from the auction provided student scholarships.
The 38th Steer Dinner, held Feb. 15, took place in the Grand Ballroom in the Muehlebach Tower of the downtown Marriott Hotel, with floral decorations, well-appointed tables and, of course, beef tenderloin. About 600 people attended the event. The university hoped to raise $625,000 for scholarships that evening.
Master of Ceremonies Len Jennings, KMBC Channel 9 news co-anchor, introduced the speakers and other things taking place. The evening’s program opened with a prayer by Avila senior Raquel Roman followed by the University singers and Avila Drumline performing under the direction of Dr. Amity Bryson, the Music Dept. Chair.
The couples who served as Honorary Chairs and Event Chairs, Dave and Geri Frantze and Kenneth and Marilyn Hager, were presented to those in attendance. Dave Frantze, ‘76, said that in the past 38 years, the Steer Dinners has raised more than $7 million in scholarships for Avila students, of which 31 percent are the first in their families to attend college. Avila awards $11 million in scholarships yearly. Of first time students enrolled in the university, 98 percent receive financial aid to defray some of the costs of attending college. The funds raised by the Steer Dinner “provide a better education and opportunities for students,” Frantze said.
As knives and forks chimed against dinner plates, Dr. Ron Slepitza, president of Avila University, described the annual Steer Dinner as bringing together the Avila family — teachers, students, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the religious order which founded and sponsors the university, friends and more. “It is an inspiration to the students to work harder, above and beyond (class requirements), because you (the audience) have acknowledged them! We have a new tagline: Avila University — Be Inspired.”
A freshman, who, with support from a local family and a full-ride scholarship awarded for hard work and good grades, is enrolled at Avila, was the special speaker of the evening. Teri Martin was a homeless teenager, who became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and now is working toward a double major in business, marketing and management with a minor in public relations. She hopes to own her own coffee shop someday.
Angie Heer, vice president for advancement and external relations at Avila University since Oct. 2011, was introduced as a member of the 2014 Class of Influential Women selected by KC Business magazine. Her selection was announced in January. The Influential Women program celebrates outstanding female Kansas City leaders in the creative, entrepreneurial, non-profit and corporate communities. Since the program’s inception, KC Business has honored more than 200 women.
Heer is the second member of the Avila administrative and academic staff to be selected as an Influential Woman by the magazine. Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Marie Joan Harris, Avila Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, was selected in the class of 2012. Heer will be featured in the March issue of KC Business magazine. The 2014 class will be honored at a reception and program March 19 at the Polsky Theater in the Carlsen Center on the campus of Johnson County Community College.
The silent auction closed as the Live Auction opened, followed by a spirited game of Heads or Tails. Two women were the final players and the winner took home an amethyst and diamond pendant (Avila’s colors) from Joslin’s Jewelers. The grand total raised that evening and from pre-event donations totaled $773,100.
Dr. Slepitza said that each year for the past four years, the total raised at the Steer Dinner has “beaten the year before by a major amount. Students receiving specific named scholarships will be connected with their donors; it’s important to put a face to a name.”
He said “Avila has always been a jewel, living the mission of a Catholic university, with our focus on the students. The people who make that possible, with their contributions and more, are changing lives for the better.”