Oh, what a night!


From left, Anna and Alex Olcese and David and Patricia Kemp.

Allison Durham/ Special to the Sun
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 10:58 p.m.

From atop a grassy hill, a white limousine winds its way along a tree-lined drive through the sprawling, 642-acre Besilu Collection Paso Fino horse farm.

It stops at the edge of a red carpet and Luisa Ferrero steps out in a long white-and-gold dress. She takes the hand of her husband, Horst, and they pose for a photo, holding their glittery gold metallic masks.

The Ferreros have arrived at the second annual "Noche de Gala" fund-raising event benefiting the Sebastian Ferrrero Foundation, which advocates and raises money for a state-of-the-art, full-service children's hospital in Gainesville.

The Venetian masquerade-themed event, which took place in October, comes just two years after the Ferreros lost their 3-year-old son, Sebastian, through a series of preventable errors that led to a medical overdose at Shands Hospital.

One month after their tragic loss, Horst and Luisa decided to form a foundation in their son's memory to begin promoting the safest and highest quality medical care for children.

"I love the mission of this foundation," says guest Kirsten Rowe, elegantly dressed in a long midnight-blue gown. "As the mom of two little girls, I think the children in this community really deserve a free-standing hospital. It will help attract and retain world-class physicians, which these children deserve."

This year, Noche was held in Micanopy at the Besilu Collection, a Paso Fino horse-breeding operation and the home of Silvia and Benjamin Leon Jr.

According to Linda Michalisin, the vice president of public relations for Frankel Media Group, the foundation's public relations agency, more than $1 million was generated at the sold-out black-tie event.

Some 950 guests sauntered down the red carpet in bold and elegant dresses, crisp black tuxes and elaborate masks. The outdoor event featured a live band, dancers, strolling musicians, Paso Fino champion horses, cigar rolling, a silent auction, a catered dinner by Dean Cacciatore and a performance by Italian opera singers and Broadway star Ted Keegan, who has played the lead role in "The Phantom of the Opera."

In the Ferreros' speech to the crowd, Luisa thanked the 105 sponsors that helped generate the $1 million in contributions raised by the event, which the Ferreros have pledged to match.

"It is our wish," she says, looking out to the crowd, "that Sebastian will be remembered as the little hero who brought us all together to build what has been a dream of so many for so long."

Melanie Boukas, a promotions/marketing specialist with Cox Media, says she's never seen anything like this event.

"It really shows something when the whole room is silent when the [Ferreros] speak," she says, pointing to the large crowd and the inevitable chatter among guests.

Guests mingled over glasses of wine and cocktails prepared by some of the event's 180 volunteers. Keith Watson of Keith Watson Productions could be seen wearing a headset, calmly orchestrating the evening's festivities.

In the main dining area, a massive crystal chandelier illuminated a black-and-white tiled dance floor in front of the stage and dozens of tables around the room were adorned with gold, black and bronze decorations.

Across the way in the silent auction, guests placed their bids on donated items. Court jesters pranced and twisted through the crowds in unitards and painted faces and dancers in pointe shoes gracefully shuffled from the main dining area.

In an address to the crowd, Benjamin Leon Jr., the founder of Leon Medical Centers and Leon Medical Centers Health Plans in Miami, said he and his wife have been captivated by the courage of Horst and Luisa Ferrarro, and surprised guests with the announcement of a $100,000 gift to the foundation.

During performances by Keegan and opera singers and dancers, guests kept their eyes on the stage as they dined on shrimp, scallops, salad and pasta for appetizers and a main course of grilled lamb chops, prime beef tenderloin, pepper and tomato stew and gratin of potatoes and fontina cheese.

For the sweets lovers, guests had their choice of miascia (a light bread pudding and vanilla ice cream), tiramisu, almond biscotti and Venetian chocolates and pastries. Espresso, coffee and cappuccino provided an extra burst of energy for those who then took to the dance floor, lured by the catchy tunes of the live band.

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