Sparing the usual targets of politics and football, a downtown businessmen’s civic club on Wednesday instead devoted its annual charity holiday roast to mysteries.
By the end of the Exchange Club of Fort Worth party, members deduced what’s causing earthquakes, how a law school disappeared and who could kick in toward a $100,000 gift for the Star-Telegram Goodfellow Fund.
Since 1936, executives and politicians have gathered to spoof each other and then make a serious donation toward clothes or shoes for children — this year, almost 20,000 kids.
Over steaks at the Fort Worth Club, donors first quietly surrendered an average of $600 each in checks.
Then, Chief Extractor George Young applied the spurs.
“OK,” he said, grinning out at some of the city’s most generous philanthropists, “which one of you guys gave the $1 bill?”
Nobody fessed up.
“Guys,” Young said, turning serious, “we need another $20,000.
“It’s a short holiday season this year. Donations are down. I know we’ve been dealing with the ice. But please, let’s not let down the Goodfellows.”
Checkbooks reappeared. Before the last bit of pecan pie was gone, the total had passed $100,000.
Young, in the role created by original Chief Extractor J.A. “Tiny” Gooch and polished by 20-year emcee Edward “Buzz” Kemble, had opened the party-roast by teasing Hillwood Properties President Mike Berry.
“Everybody knows we’ve been going to a lot of ‘Man of the Year’ awards banquets for Berry,” Young said as Berry grinned sheepishly.
“Just today, Mike gets the ‘Azle Garden Club Green Thumb Award.’ Then, he’s in Benbrook. Meet the ‘Cracker Barrel Customer of the Year.’”
Then club members started talking mysteries.
“There’s this big, fancy road that goes nowhere over by Will Rogers [Coliseum],” Young said, identifying it as the new Trail Drive near a long-proposed but never-funded new public events arena.
He credited absent rodeo executives Ed Bass and Charlie Geren. Young delivered a mock “goodwill offering” from arts patrons hoping the arena plan won’t divert city funding.
Calling up Bass’ youngest brother, Lee, and Geren’s younger brother, Pete, Young awarded them three well-worn club hallway art prints which he identified as a “Picasso, a Monet and a Wyeth.”
Lee Bass accepted Ed’s with a wink, saying, “He’ll get this for Christmas.”
Then Young turned the investigative focus to a “daylight robbery,” saying Texas A&M University came to Fort Worth and “stole a law school.”
Calling a silent Texas Christian University Chancellor Victor Boschini to his feet, Young interrogated him about why TCU let A&M buy a Texas Wesleyan school that “should have gone to TCU.”
Young feared the school may be renamed for the Aggies’ much-investigated quarterback: “the Johnny Manziel School of Law.”
Young also needled Fort Worth Zoo President Ardon Moore, an executive with Lee Bass’ companies.
One recent earthquake in west Fort Worth wasn’t related to gas drilling, Young said.
“Upon further investigation,” he said, “it was Ardon tearing down a house on Broad Street.”
Moore stirred controversy in June when he bought and demolished a former home of the late philanthropist Ruth Carter Stevenson. A Carter family member had described the home as mold-ridden.
Young joked that the efficient demolition has earned Moore a proud new assignment solving a recent problem at City Hall.
“You have done such a fabulous job,” Young said as Moore blushed, “that Mayor Price and the City Council have asked you to lead a special training session for city staff.
“They would like to know the best way to avoid tearing down the wrong house.”