No satire could upstage reality in 2016, so the annual Exchange Club of Fort Worth holiday luncheon didn’t try to compete.
Instead of a comedy roast, civic leaders heard championship football coach Gene Stallings’ serious plea for them to dig deeper for children this year. They responded with a record $161,000 in gifts in a single hour for the Star-Telegram Goodfellow Fund charity.
The donation — enough to provide school clothes and shoes for 3,200 children — is always the largest to the 104-year-old Goodfellow Fund, raising money this month to dress 16,000 local children.
“I know a lot of you make big deals,” Stallings, 81, said, looking around at a Fort Worth Club ballroom filled with business executives, investors and philanthropists, including new club member and TCU football coach Gary Patterson.
“When you give to somebody who doesn’t have anything at all to give back to you — now, that’s a big deal.”
In December 1936, leaders of the businessmen’s club spontaneously decided to auction their annual holiday party decorations for newspaper children’s charities. They raised $66.36.
On Wednesday, 80 years later, club president Jim Anthony began the party by explaining that the club would forgo most of the usual joking skits and mock presentations this year to hear Stallings.
When TCU cheerleaders Canon Charanza and Chandler Jordan made a first pass through the ballroom picking up gift checks, the total was only $120,000, far short of the 2016 record, $150,005.
Then Stallings, a former Dallas Cowboys assistant who coached Alabama’s 1992 national championship, began talking about children’s charities and his late son, John Mark, born with Down syndrome.
Being blessed, and then helping those who are less fortunate — that’s what it’s all about.
Gene Stallings, a former Dallas Cowboys assistant and Alabama coach
As if he were giving a Sugar Bowl pep talk, Stallings commanded the attention of the busy executives as he said: “Why do we give our money to the Goodfellows? Because it’s the right thing to do.”
He went on: “Those of us in here that have good health and good bodies and good jobs — we need to be appreciative of it and show a little kindness. … Being blessed, and then helping those who are less fortunate — that’s what it’s all about.”
Afterward, club “chief extractor” George Young Jr. asked club members to pledge at least another $20,000 and get closer to the goal.
He circled the room gathering $1,000 pledges, plus $5,000 from entrepreneur Paul Andrews and $5,000 combined from former Pier 1 Imports executive Marvin Girouard and Radio Shack executive Len Roberts.
Mistakenly thinking the total was close to the day’s goal of $160,000 but would still fall short, Young pledged another $5,000 to get close. That was actually the gift that broke $160,000.
Earlier, Young had inducted new members Bill Burton, Bill Clinkscale, Rick W. Merrill, J.C. Pace, Bob Ravnaas and Patterson with hints of Exchange Club joke-roast tradition.
He threatened to make Merrill sing a country song the Cook Children’s executive has performed with country singer Sonny Burgess, and asked Pace, a sculptor, to shape something from Play-Doh.
When Young introduced Patterson, chairman of his namesake charitable foundation, he teased Patterson about needing to wear suspenders to keep his pants up and loafers to keep from having to re-tie his shoes.
“It’s an exercise,” Patterson said. “It’s a way to burn calories.”
Young grinned. “OK,” he said, looking at Patterson’s waistline. “And I can tell it’s workin’ for you!”
Young also presented the club’s Star-Telegram guest with a red-white-and-blue cap: “Trump 2016 — Make America Great Again.”
(See opening line.)
Be a jolly Goodfellow
Since 1912, the Star-Telegram’s Goodfellow Fund has provided practical gifts for schoolchildren. Join this tradition by sending a contribution to Goodfellows, Box 1870, Fort Worth, TX 76101. Or go online to goodfellowfund.org and make a secure credit card donation.