With retired Dallas Cowboys star Jason Witten urging them on, members of Fort Worth’s downtown business Exchange Club staged a rally for the record books Wednesday.
Time was running out in their 83rd annual Goodfellow Fund holiday benefit luncheon, and the businessmen’s gifts were $30,000 behind last year’s pace.
That would have meant no Christmas school clothes or shoes for 600 local children.
But after a remarkable outpouring of Christmas kindness — at the rate of $10,000 per minute — the civic club smashed all records with a $260,000 donation that will provide Christmas for 5,200 kids.
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“This was unbelievable,” said Witten, 36, the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver and a timely guest with Dallas on a five-game winning streak and close to a division championship.
“These are good men who are obviously very successful. They’re showing the kind of character that made them a success.”
Witten spun stories about his own Cowboys career, and pivoted away from questions about whether he would leave his new ESPN analyst job for a comeback.
(His answer: “It’s a young man’s game. It’s fun to think about it .... I don’t think they need to change anything.”)
Then emcee George Young, usually the club’s joking and arm-twisting “chief extractor,” took over with the bad news: Donations were way off.
He looked somberly around the Fort Worth Club meeting room crowd of about 120 executives, bankers, lawyers and oil heirs.
“Every one of you can give a little bit more,” he said: “We’re got $80,000 to raise in the next 10 minutes, or we’re not leaving.”
Holding up an autographed Witten jersey, he coaxed oil executive Greg Bird to bid $8,000: “Come on! Somebody else will bid more.”
Bird bit. He wound up with the jersey.
Young convinced new club member Arnie Gachman to pay $8,000 for a Witten autographed football.
Then Young put good-natured pressure on TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini: “Victor! We all saw what you made last year!” ($2.8 million).
Boschini waved the OK for an $8,000 gift.
All told, the club raised $100,000 in the last 10 minutes.
Others in the crowd had already delivered checks or pledges, including new members Gachman, Stewart Henderson, W.A. Landreth, Paxton Motheral, Frost Prioleau, Rusty Reid and Will Rodgers.
“There are still good people — you just have to touch them,” Gachman said. “This shows people care.”
Real estate investor John Goff credited Witten.
“He poured out his heart and soul for the Cowboys — I think he brought the goodness out in everybody,” Goff said.
In an opening talk, club President Rob Green told how the Goodfellows legacy goes back to 1912 and Star-Telegram co-founder Amon G. Carter Sr.
In 1936, the club began donating money from its Christmas party. (The first year’s gift: $66.26.)
“The Goodfellow Fund has a special place in history, and in the heart of everyone in Fort Worth,” said incoming club president Pete Geren.
Particularly those 5,200 kids.