Behind the scenes of library gala

Michele Ferguson Nichols, left, and Kristin Johnson at the library with some of the props for the spring gala, Experience the Wonder. — Jeannette Ross photo

Michele Ferguson Nichols, left, and Kristin Johnson at the library with some of the props for the spring gala, Experience the Wonder. — Jeannette Ross photo

When 200 guests arrive at the Silver Spring Country Club on April 1 to “Experience the Wonder” of Wilton Library’s spring benefit, many will have no idea of the hours of brainstorming, outreach and creativity it took to achieve what will surely be a magical evening.

Michele Ferguson Nichols and Kristin Johnson, co-chairs for this year’s gala, and their 15-member committee — Suzi Eckert, Elizabeth Walsh, Tamara Kalin, Lianne Acosta-Rua, Carrie Preisano, Kathryn Groves, Betsy Huffman, Michele Klink, Kathy Dhanda, Gary Battaglia, Callie Mellana, Saras Nair, Pam Nobumoto, Teresa Waldron, and Tami Weigold — will know for sure.

Nichols and Johnson are veterans of the annual event and they approached their assignment with gusto.

“The process begins in the fall, thinking about the theme,” Nichols told The Bulletin in a sit-down with Johnson at the library. With a date of April 1, they wanted something “fun and whimsical, with tongue-in-cheek elements.” They decided on Experience the Wonder expressed through Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. They had hoped to keep it a secret, but like most good ideas it leaked out.

Undaunted, Johnson said, “The community will still be surprised and have a lot of fun with it.”

And despite its connection to a beloved children’s book, “it will translate into an evening for adults,” she said.

Much of that can be attributed to the creative work of Betsy Huffman, who created the tablescapes, and floral designer Michele Klink.

“The library is lucky to have these two treasures to draw on,” Nichols said.

With new and experienced committee members — some of whom are new to town — they set about planning the live and silent auctions, the food, the entertainment — Wilton’s own Bob Riccio — and a myriad more details.

While it is a night of dressing up and socializing, the auctions are an integral part of the evening and were meticulously put together.

“You want to gather items that are unique and will attract large bids,” Johnson said. They try not to ask the same vendors each year, although many are happy to participate year after year. “The local business community is committed to the library,” Johnson said. “They are always excited to be supportive of it.”

There will be 65 silent auction items this year, and for the live auction they have put together a romantic retreat in one of Newport’s grandest landmark hotels, a private wine tasting class for 20, a Heather Priest dining experience, box seats to a Giants football game, and a selection of Yankees tickets, including a rivalry matchup with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. There also will be a drawing for JetBlue tickets and an enticing wine pull.

Enticing bidders to raise their paddles will be comedian Tim Washer of Ridgefield.

When asked how many hours they put into the event, Johnson joked she “didn’t want to know.”

Nichols said the group meets once a month from about August through December, then twice a month in January and weekly thereafter. There is also work beyond meetings, and as an example she said she’s been visiting restaurants for an auction package that includes a tour of SoNo restaurants.

Despite the many moving parts of putting together such an event, both women said things have run smoothly this year. “The committee has worked hard and accomplished a lot,” Johnson said.

There is still much to be done both now and after the event.

“Everyone needs to get their auction forms in,” Nichols stressed. Decorations are still being made, and they must plan how the auction items will be displayed.

The committee does all the setup, which means loading up five or six SUVs and taking everything to the country club at 439 Silver Spring Road in Ridgefield. Saturday morning will be devoted to setup, and then after the party, they will change from their party dresses to sneakers and jeans to clean up.

Tickets left

There are still a few tickets left, but they are expected to sell out. Tickets begin at $200 per person with opportunities for preferred seating and reserved tables. People may visit the library’s website at www.wiltonlibrary.org and click on the Spring Benefit icon on the home page or call 203-762-6321. Guests are kindly asked to RSVP by March 23. Cocktail attire is suggested.

Another way to support the library is through Lord & Taylor’s Shop Smart Do Good event. Shoppers who purchase a $5 ticket will receive two 25%-off coupons — each good for one item — and a 15%-off coupon good for cosmetics and fragrances. The promotion runs through April 1 and the library receives 100% of the $5 ticket proceeds. Tickets may be purchased at the library or Lord & Taylor.

Lord & Taylor in Stamford is also offering Ladies Night on Thursday, March 16, when Wilton women may enjoy wine and cheese while they shop.

Honors

In addition to the party atmosphere, the library will honor The Village Market, which has supported the library in countless ways over many years. The library recognizes Peter Keating, Tim Dolnier, Mike Picheco, and Nancy Dolnier for their loyal support — from the capital campaign that helped fund the library’s expansion to the continuous backing of the Summer Music & More Concert Series, which will enjoy its 17th year this summer.

It is those kinds of activities that fuel Johnson’s and Nichols’ desire to roll up their sleeves in service to the library.

“It is such a pillar of the community,” said Johnson, who has gone to the Ladies’ Soirée, lectures, and worked there during the extended hurricane power outages. “The library does such a great job providing for the community at all levels of life.”

Nichols agreed, noting she has been using the library over the 14 years she’s lived in Wilton. “If you look at their schedule, they have more than 20 programs going just this week,” she said. “I don’t know if people are aware of how much it has to offer.”

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