By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It’s been 39 years since Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Olive Louise Dallavis, then-president of Avila College, started the Steer Dinner to raise money for student scholarships. Things sure have changed in that time. The first dinner was inspired by the gift of Jimmy C., an American Royal Grand Champion steer, to Sister Olive Louise. In order to turn the gift into cash for the college, she had the school cafeteria modestly decorated and served steaks to her guests, auctioning off additional steaks to raise funds for scholarships.
The Feb. 7 Steer Dinner was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Muehlebach Tower downtown, beautifully decorated with flowers. The event’s Honorary Charis were Ken and Marilyn Hager and Co-Chairs Bob and Pat Hardin.
More than 650 guests, including 200 Avila alumni, attended the annual dinner, which Avila president Dr. Ron Slepitza declared the official kickoff of the university’s centennial year. “In 2016, Avila University will be turning 100. One hundred years of bettering and inspiring students from around the corner and around the world. We want to continue the Avila traditions of making a difference and transforming lives.”
He also issued a challenge to the crowd: In the past 38 years, the Steer dinner had raised more than $8 million in scholarship funds for the university. About one third of the student body are the first generation in their families to attend college, and scholarships make college possible. The 2014 Steer Dinner brought in around $775,000 in contributions from alumni, friends and family for scholarships. “Let’s make this a million dollar Steer Dinner!” Slepitza challenged.
Before dinner was served, guests perused the silent auction items, deciding which item(s) of the hundreds to bid on. There was everything from veterinary services to jewelry to an evening gown to a stay at a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks to Royals memorabilia, Avila, and Catholic high school jerseys, restaurant gift certificates, original artwork, memberships to the Nelson Art Gallery and more.
Following the singing of the Blessing by Elise Pates, junior, a tradition started by Sister Olive Louise, the hotel’s wait staff served Chateaubriand and broiled Grouper with vegetables and rolls with butter. During the meal, student volunteers made the rounds of the tables, displaying items to be auctioned off later, in the Live Auction, including jewelry, a mink coat, travel opportunities and professional sporting and concert tickets.
One student, senior Theresa Hancock, a St. Louis native, enrolled at Avila to major in Theater. She said she has learned so much about technical design and directing, for which she credits Avila, and is currently designing the set for the spring performances of “Man of LaMancha”, the last week of April.
With the goal of teaching high school level Theater, Hancock has applied to Fontbonne University in St. Louis, also a Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet –sponsored institution, for graduate school.
The Live Auction was directed by the Nigro Brothers, and the 14 items were bid on fiercely. When the live auction closed, the silent auction shut down and the annual Heads and Tails game was over, Dr. Slepitza announced that the total raised that evening was $1, 005,500, about a 30 percent increase over last year.
The Steer Dinner was attended by a number of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, including Sister Marie Joan Harris, Avila Provost and Chemistry professor. Sister Marie Joan will be stepping down in May, after 45 years at the university.
Since its move from the St. Teresa’s Academy campus in 1963, Avila has grown and expanded, all the while supported by alumni, friends and family. The record $1 million in scholarship funds is a good illustration of that support.
Sister Olive Louise will be proud.