One evening a year, the Silver & Turquoise Board of Hostesses brings back the good old days with a gala that benefits one of the Southwest's most significant historic treasures: Mission San Xavier del Bac.
"There are no speakers, raffles or silent auctions," said Chris Wangensteen-Eklund, chairwoman of the 61st Annual Silver & Turquoise Ball April 30. "It is just an evening to relax on the beautiful grounds of the Arizona Inn, enjoy drinks and an amazing dinner and dance to two live bands, then end the night in the fabulous Audubon Bar for a cabaret show.
"There is no pressure of bidding or buying raffle tickets or 'Did I win?' - it's just this fabulous party to give back to what we call the 'White Dove of the Desert' or the 'Sistine Chapel of North America': Our beloved Mission San Xavier."
Wangensteen-Eklund said she is gratified to be coordinating one of the most historic black-tie events in the state and possibly the Southwest, second only to the Board of Visitors Charity Ball in Phoenix.
The Silver & Turquoise Ball is the signature event of the Board of Hostesses, which includes 50 active members on a mission to promote, support and encourage the preservation of Tucson's historical traditions and diverse cultural heritage.
Many members hail from longtime Tucson families who have been involved with the nonprofit organization for several generations, and all are dedicated to improving the community through philanthropic and/or professional contributions, according to Wangensteen-Eklund.
"This is an amazing group of women. If you look at the last 61 years at the women who have been involved, it reads like a 'Who's Who' of Arizona history," said Eklund, referring to a membership roster that has boasted Peggy Steinfeld, Auroria Patania, Abby Grunewald, Betty Jo Drachman, Dottie Sundt and many members of their families and extended families.
For a group steeped in tradition, support of the mission was a no-brainer. Since 1997, the Board of Hostesses has contributed about $375,000 toward its restoration.
Donations such as these are vital to the interior and exterior restorations which have been ongoing for about 22 years, according to Bernard "Bunny" Fontana. Fontana is a founding member of the Patronato San Xavier, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the restoration, preservation and maintenance of the mission.
The next - and final - major project slated for restoration by the Patronato is the east bell tower, with an estimated minimum cost of $1.5 million. The project has been delayed since 2009, when funds for a matching grant from the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund were cut by the Legislature.
The Patronato seeks to have the money set aside before beginning the work in order to minimize the length of time that scaffolding and other materials will obscure the church, which receives about 250,000 visitors annually.
Upon completion of the east bell tower project, systematic maintenance and monitoring will be required in an effort to prevent major repairs and protect the artwork inside the church, according to Fontana, who recently collaborated with photographer Edward McCain on the book "A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac."
"Mission San Xavier is certainly the finest example in the United States of Mexican baroque architecture and art," Fontana said. "No other church has the quantity of sculptural and painted Mexican baroque art that it has … it is an icon of identity for our area."
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