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Annual hospital gala a night to remember

Master of Ceremonies Vic Sadlowski probably said it the best realizing the 2011 Bonnyville Health Foundation Gala was going to set a new fundraising record. "We live in the most fantastic community in Alberta ...
The audience stood to applaud the generous $100,000 donation by the Kolodkas.
The audience stood to applaud the generous $100,000 donation by the Kolodkas.

Master of Ceremonies Vic Sadlowski probably said it the best realizing the 2011 Bonnyville Health Foundation Gala was going to set a new fundraising record.

"We live in the most fantastic community in Alberta ... way to go," said Sadlowski, a longtime member of the organizing committee for the gala, which celebrated its 14th anniversary before another sold-out crowd of roughly 630 the evening of Feb. 19 at the Centennial Centre.

After the 2010 gala raised more than $200,000 thanks to a generous donation by Cenovus (who also paid the entire costs of the meal), the organizing committee increased its original goal from $100,000 to $200,000 for the 2011 event.

With an exceptional contribution of $100,000 by local philanthropists Stan and Margaret Kolodka, this year's gala set a new record, said Ray Prevost, chair of the Bonnyville Health Foundation fundraising committee and veteran member of Town council.

The final tally is expected to be about $275,000, said Prevost, all of which will go to purchase much-needed new equipment for the Bonnyville Health Centre.

The donation by the Kolodka family is very much appreciated, said Prevost, who told the large audience the family "didn't want any fanfare" in making the generous gift to the community.

"There isn't a word in the English language that can truly express how proud and happy I am with this year's event," said Prevost.

This year's gala theme was "An Evening in the Orient" and organizers did a terrific job decorating the Flint Field House in flashy and impressive oriental décor, complete with gorgeous red linens on the tabletops.

The traditional live auction raised tens of thousands of dollars as those in attendance bid on some amazing prizes, including numerous pieces of artwork, trips to Fairmont, B.C., Las Vegas and a tour of castles in Ireland. The 50/50 raffle's top prize included a one-week vacation, complete with condominium accommodations, in Mexico.

The gala raffle's top prize included an all-expenses paid trip to the Orient.

"We had raised more than $225,000 before the end of the live auction, which is just amazing," said Prevost. "That didn't include the silent auction, ticket revenue for the event and the bar."

The organizing committee responsible for putting the gala together "is like a dream team" with certain members thriving in organizational skills, others experts in promotion and others skilled in lighting and decorating, said Prevost.

The committee will meet in early March to hold a wine and cheese to celebrate the success of the 2011 event, then get right to work on choosing a theme for the 2012 gala, said Prevost.

The committee will then take the summer off and start working hard to ensure next year's gala is again a huge success, he said.

Denis Germain, chair of the Bonnyville Health Foundation, said living and working in a community as generous and supportive as Bonnyville is something he is very proud of.

The Bonnyville Health Centre has become an exceptional small town hospital in large part because of the equipment that has been purchased over the past 14 years through the fundraising efforts of the gala event, he said.

"This event allows our physicians to work with the best equipment ... This community refuses to settle for less than the best," Germain said.

The gala event has now raised in excess of $1.5 million to purchase new medical equipment since the first gala was held back in 1998, which is an amazing amount of money for a community this size, he said.

"We've now held 14 galas and had 14 sellouts," he said. "The local community support for this event has been tremendous from day one ... This gala has quickly become the premier social event of the year and we're very proud of that."

Every ticket purchased to attend the gala and every dollar spent on the live and silent auction goes towards purchasing new equipment and improving the level of health care to local citizens, which is why he's confident the gala will continue to be a huge success for years to come, said Germain.

As has become tradition at the gala event, one local doctor took the stage to thank all in attendance and confirm to them how much this event means to local health care professionals.

Dr. Cecile Lavoie told the audience "there are only three words that can describe this event ... caring, caring, caring."

Lavoie said she and her husband have lived in Bonnyville for the past 25 years and realized quickly what a caring and supportive community this is.

People "came out in droves" to support building a health care centre in Bonnyville more than two decades ago and packed town hall meetings when there were rumblings the local hospital might close many years ago, she said.

Physicians now perform in excess of 1,000 operations at the local hospital and equipment gets worn out and ineffective and needs to be replaced, which is why funds from the gala event are so greatly appreciated as new equipment allows doctors to continue to do good work, she said.

Some of the new equipment that will be purchased with the funds from the 2011 gala include an otogram machine for the hospital's ear clinic and three new pieces of specialty equipment.

"We hope to remain the most productive, proactive hospital in the Lakeland area," said Lavoie to loud applause.

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