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Chamber hosts ‘Cinco de Mayo’ fete

A room at Rothchild’s was awash in color Friday for The Farragut/West Knox Chamber of Commerce “Fiesta Cinco de Mayo Annual Dinner and Auction.”

The party took place two days after the actual holiday, but no one seemed to mind. A mariachi band (Dos Gringos), colorful decorations and a meal of traditional Mexican fare set the mood. Partygoers (chamber members and guests) contributed to the atmosphere by wearing sombreros and speaking the language.

The leader of the fiesta was chamber president Bettye Sisco who addressed the crowd and enthusiastically included Spanish phrases in her comments.

More than an opportunity for members to relax and continue to strengthen their relationships, the party served as a setting for a night of fund raising through auctions and admission fees. Tickets were $50 for members; $60 for non-members; tables of 10 could be purchased for $450.

Millie Hetrick, the chamber’s executive assistant and membership coordinator, said, “This fund-raiser means a lot.” The group raised $12,000 last year.

Planning started months ago and Hetrick said she, Sisco and their team were at the venue the entire day hustling through party preparations. Sisco credits the volunteers who help make the event a success.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “There are only two of us in our office. Our volunteers are the backbone of this organization.”

Member Overton Lea was one volunteer who greeted partygoers. A fairly new addition to the Farragut business community (Lea’s Natural Health Solutions) and the Chamber, Lea said the party was just one event that presented an opportunity for members to network. “Networking in life and in business is important,” he said. “This has been a great group of people to get to know. There is a real sense of community.”

According to Sisco, the chamber “community” has “grown remarkably in the last few years.” Even Anderson County’s Chamber has noticed. Bear Stevenson, the party’s auctioneer and Anderson County’s Chamber of Commerce president said, “We watch you from Clinton and Anderson County and we applaud you.”

Ann Cooper, owner of Starting Points Child Care, said she values her Chamber membership because it is an ideal way to meet people. ”Building good relationships is good business,” she said. “It takes a few years to get on your feet, but once you do, it’s important to give something back.” Cooper, who attended with her husband Karl, also invited sister Janice Zimmerman and her husband.

Mark Musolf and his wife Julie represented their home-operated business, the Logo Shoppe, and agreed that the chamber is a “tremendous way to get to know people.” Adorned with matching, ornate sombreros, the couple joked that they looked forward to the dinner because, “We get to wear cool hats.”

Additional volunteers included students from Farragut High School. Junior Lindsey Wright said she volunteered because of a suggestion by her marketing teacher Vicki Love. Wright assisted in the silent auction promoting, collecting and distributing bids. Students from Greenway, FHS, Farragut Intermediate and Farragut Primary schools donated decorations like tissue paper flowers and artwork hung throughout the room. Sisco also said, “Mucho gracias to our sponsors.” Their contributions help fund the Chamber’s continuing education grants. The $500 grants offer members a way to learn more about running their businesses.

After Sisco’s comments, Stevenson entertained the crowd while he served as the evening’s auctioneer. He was assisted by Lisa Gaylon and Chamber member Rick Terry. Terry said he learned how to “bark” from his father-in-law. He and his wife, Patty, have been married for 24 years. Patty’s brother is also an auctioneer.

Terry helped auction his own donated item, a pair of 14-carat white-gold chandelier earrings. Terry chose the pair that featured a star because they represented the Farragut Admirals. About the generous donation, Terry said, “I’ve been in West Knoxville since the mid ’80s. I wanted to give back to the community and do what’s right.” Terry Ash won the auction for his wife Laura. “I was bidding behind her back; she didn’t know it,” he said. “They’re for Mother’s Day. They solved my shopping problems.”

Patty enjoyed accompanying her husband to the party. “This is always nice to come to,” she said. “I like that it’s a casual setting.”

Part of the casual setting came from the elaborate centerpieces donated by Chamber members. No fancy place settings here; guests picked their favorites among the imaginative and colorful creations.

This year’s winner, “Fiesta in a Bucket,” was contributed by First Tennessee Home Loans. Stevenson created hype for the auction item when he said, “Take this orange bucket to a UT football game and you’ll be ready to tailgate.” Laura Ash and Vicki Williams said the creation was a team effort but noted the centerpiece was designed by co-worker Debbie Szarc.

Some of the other auctioned centerpieces included a set of tires, a weeklong stay at an inn in England, basketballs signed by Pat Summitt and Buzz Peterson, a basket of margarita must-haves with a certificate granting a catered party for eight and a full-page ad from the farragutpress. The night began with a silent auction containing items like a Riverside restaurant gift certificate, a Fisher Tire car care package, a week at Camp Webb and a vacuum cleaner.

During her term as president, Sisco has spiced up the annual dinner, changing the theme yearly. She said she enjoys theme parties because they are a celebration of music, food, beverage and customs. “You can have fun but you can also give some history,” she said. At the end of the night, Sisco said the party was a success. “Everybody had a ball,” she said. Even Mayor Eddy Ford got in on the fun when he and Sisco shared the tradition of cracking celebration eggs, which are filled with confetti. They each simultaneously cracked eggs on each other’s head. At next year’s party, Chamber members will take a trip to the “Big Easy.”

Sisco leaked to the farragutpress that next year’s theme is Mardi Gras.


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