story and photos by Brittany Ransom
Teal drinks, teal attire, and teal linens helped set the theme on Saturday (Aug. 16) evening as the Arkansas River Valley Ovarian Cancer Coalition (ARVOCC) hosted its third annual TEAL in Tahiti at the Convention Center in downtown Fort Smith.
Encouraging guests to "Take Early Action and Live," the event drew more than 600 guests from the community to help raise funds and awareness for ovarian cancer.
The evening kicked off with a tropical-themed dinner, which included Hawaiian spareribs, Tahitian meatballs, and Key West vegetables, among many other dishes. A tropical fruit display was also set up, complete with a tree constructed of pineapples and an array of melons and berries. Guests also enjoyed a number of desserts including Flaming Bananas Fosters, mini key lime tarts and strawberry shortcake shooters, as well as the evening's signature cocktail, a Blue Tahitian.
A jewelry giveaway featured two customized pieces from local jewelers. For only $10, guests could enter to win a 14-karat gold necklace adorned with a "Forevermark" DeBeers brilliant, round diamond pendant, donated by Newton's Jewelry. The Jewelry Store in Fort Smith provided a pair of gold gemstone earrings, with pearl jacket dangles and an array of peridot, citrine, amethyst, and topaz stones.
A silent auction was also held, that included more than 80 items. Guests perused the tables filled with everything from clothing and accessories to one-of-a-kind paintings and KitchenAid mixers.
Founded by Blanche West, the River Valley Chapter of the Arkansas Ovarian Cancer Coalition was formed after West lost her sister-in-law, Frances Kattawar Jolly to the disease in 2006. West was troubled by the lack of resources available to women regarding the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Shortly before Jolly's death, West vowed to "do something" to help educate women about the disease.
Since its inception just three years ago, TEAL has nearly doubled in size, helping to raise crucial dollars for the cause and helping to inform the community about the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women.
"This year we have about 650 in attendance," said Liz Martin, TEAL event chair. "That is up from around 450 last year and 350 our first year. The event has continued to grow from one year to the next and we are so proud. This is by far our best yet."
At the event, guests learned that a portion of the proceeds would also benefit research through Arkansas-based company Stage 1 Diagnostics. Martin and emcee Maverick presented a $5,000 check to Katie O'Brien, on behalf of the organization's founder, Dr. Tim O'Brien. Martin then announced the creation of an award to honor major supporters of ARVOCC.
"Every year we try to bring something new to the event and this year, we have decided to present a special award," said Martin.
She then surprised Ed and Shirley Yeager with the Karen Kay Yeager Windsor Award, named in honor of their late daughter. The couple, who were visibly shocked, came to the stage for the presentation of a photo plaque honor.
A special moment of silence and remembrance was also held, to honor victims of ovarian cancer and their families. Referring to the disease as a "cancer that whispers," local pastor Kevin Thompson led the crowd in a prayer and minute of reflection for those affected by the illness.
Following the program, the always popular Mr. Cabbage Head and the Screaming Radishes took to the stage and kicked off the live music and dancing. Ovarian cancer survivors, adorned in purple and teal boas, lined up throughout the room and made their way to the dance floor for a special performance to the appropriately-titled "I Will Survive."
Organizers hoped to top profit's from last year's event, which brought in more than $23,000 for ARVOCC. Proceeds from TEAL will benefit the organization's local efforts. "Money will go back directly to the community," said Martin. "It helps provide support group facilitators at the Reynolds Cancer Support House, gas cards for patients traveling to and from treatments to help them financially.”
In addition to providing financial support, ARVOCC attends health fairs, civic meetings and other community events distributing literature to help raise awareness and educate the public about early detection. The group also purchases awareness billboards, hosts informational tea parties and sponsors a Butterfly Release in September in honor of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.