Our Man IN KC: Honoring Mothers, an Art Exhibit, and Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey Gala

Damian Lair with Jamila Weaver at Hats Off to Mothers.

Hats Off!

They say, for a mother, the days are long, but the years are short. I am not a mother, but from a reverse point of view, I acutely know this to be true.

Over the years, I have seen various photos from the annual Hats Off to Mothers luncheon, held as the primary fundraising event for Life Unlimited. Each year, the organization honors mothers in our community who demonstrate remarkable dedication to philanthropy, personal achievement, and family life. I was in attendance to support one of this year’s honorees—my good friend Jamila Weaver. Additional honorees included: Laura Allen, Rosana Privitera Biondo, Doranne Hudson, Siobhan McLaughlin Lesley, Kathy Nelson, Katherine Schorgl, and Karen Yungmeyer.

Life Unlimited is the largest service provider for adults with disabilities in the Kansas City metro area. The organization was created when multiple, smaller organizations (including Immacolata Manor, Concerned Care, Open Options, and MERIL) joined together. Its mission is to support people with developmental disabilities so they can experience life with unlimited possibilities. Life Unlimited provides day services, community living and support options, employment services, recreation programs, and applied behavior analysis services.

In addition to each mother honoree getting her moment in the spotlight, including an overview of her accomplishments, luncheon attendees also got to hear a bit more from one honoree. You may know Kathy Nelson as the President and CEO of The KC Sports Commission and Visit KC. At Life Unlimited, though, she is solely known as “Pat’s Kathy.” One of Kathy’s longest and best friends is Pat Sage. They were neighbors who met trick-or-treating and spent ample time together—swimming, planning backyard track meets, bible studying, and listening to music. As childhood concluded and lives diverged, Pat moved to Life Unlimited, where, as Kathy put it—she could live with unlimited possibilities. Pat has been a resident there for 42 years.

At Life Unlimited, Pat lives with dignity and respect. She is provided healthcare, employment assistance, life skills training, plenty of opportunities to socialize, and more. Life Unlimited provides Pat and many others with a loving and secure home, where each can live independently and thrive.

Hats off to the event’s chair, Suzanne Shank. It was a beautiful and inspiring afternoon, filled with so many women I admire and respect. And speaking of women I respect (and love)—my own mother, Judy. She has devoted a sizable portion of her life to raising three children in a manner that they would one day live with integrity and make her and our family proud. To all the mothers: my hat goes off to you.

Spotted: Jeanette Prenger, Peggy Dunn, Zulema Bassham, Kelly Privitera, Heather Pluard, Barbara Spilker, Mina Steen, Lisa Schellhorn, Debby Ballard, Susan Bubb, Megan Bubb, Erica Crenshaw, Rachel Sexton, Natalie Kirk Welch, Mary Leonida, Tricia Scott, Taylor Smith, Lisa Flynn, Georgina Herrera, Kelly Anders, Carol Logan, CiCi Rojas

Overheard: “He’s so skinny that his face is starting to sag. It’s practically sliding down the street.”

Petite Bouquet, oil painting by Gary Head.

Terra & Trellis

When my friend Carolyn (DeeDee) Arnold couldn’t stop talking about an upcoming art exhibit by Gary Head at George A Lifestyle Store in the Crestwood Shops, I knew I had to be there.

I have known Gary for many years. If memory serves me correctly, I believe our friendship dates back to dinners with Shelby Herrick at Houston’s on the Country Club Plaza. RIP, Houston’s. I still crave the chicken tenders and chopped kale salad every time I walk or drive by the years-vacant space. Perhaps new Plaza owners will lure them to return? I’ll start a letter campaign, and Gary can sweeten the deal with gorgeous art. It’s worth it, Gary.

Gary Head has been painting his entire life. At just 10 years old, he had his first show at the Texas State Capital. How proud he and his parents must have been. He began teaching adult painting classes at 12 and continued teaching as an adult at the Kansas City Art Institute.

With a degree in art, Gary was hired by Hallmark Cards and almost immediately promoted to Master Artist. His work appeared on a vast array of Hallmark products throughout his career. He has also illustrated for many major print publications, including Sports Illustrated and The Atlantic. His artwork is inspired by nature, travel, and the world around him.

Upon retiring from Hallmark, Gary spent much of the pandemic lockdown painting at home, here in KC and Palm Springs. The incredible result was on display at George. Stunning florals—peonies, roses, lilacs, dahlias, and poppies—dotted the space like postage stamps of free-flowing cheer. There were also landscapes. Primarily rural settings, often featuring weathered barns, these were pastoral sceneries balanced by abstract interpretation. They reminded me of home.

Overheard: “Any chance to prove she’s an idiot—she hits the gas.”

The real genius for me, aside from the effortless-seeming style and composition, was Gary’s inspired color palette. Piece after piece, they each seemed to say: these colors were divinely created to be layered atop each other in exactly this manner. The pieces are uplifting and happy, but not in a saccharine, forced manner. You can tell they’re all from the same “family,” and each one feels like it could be dropped into any room, regardless of its style.

Happy for Gary, but sorry for you dear readers—virtually all the pieces sold on that opening night. What remained were snapped up in the days following. There is a bright spot for you, however. Due to the show’s success, Gary will have an ongoing presence at George. I would follow his Instagram to keep abreast of future showings. And if you just can’t wait—he also does gorgeous commissions. As if what he’s already painted wouldn’t drop perfectly into your empty space.

Spotted: Craig Chelberg, Dan Meiners & Dave Brinkerhoff, Dan Nilsen, Tom Suther & Kevin Bryant, Mike Sigler, Greg Oborny, Deirdre Devine, Bob Legler, Shelly Legler, Phil Scaglia, Clayton Farrell, Deb Dusenberry, Ward Wheeler, Lisa Okazaki, Elizabeth Oram, Fred Oram, Chris Nelson, Bet David, Charlie Macaman, Beth Stoner

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KCFAA Hits 40

“United by Dance” was the theme for this year’s Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey Gala, and guests were united in their exhilaration to welcome Ailey II back to Kansas City. We gathered for a performance by this internationally acclaimed dance company that embodies the spirit of unity, creativity, and cultural celebration.

We were also united in celebrating and commemorating a significant milestone—KCFAA’s 40th Anniversary. For four decades, KCFAA has been a beacon of inspiration, impacting nearly 20,000 lives a year through its presentations and educational initiatives.

The performance this year was the best I’ve seen from Ailey II. The company seems to change and grow by the year. I was especially moved by the new work, Luminous. Francesca Harper, the Ailey II artistic director, choreographed the piece in homage to five decades of Ailey II, weaving in iconic moments where the company influenced the cultural landscape. It felt like time travel across the company’s storied history and its dedication to breaking boundaries and advocating for social change. Francesca interviewed renowned Ailey II alumni and drew from those luminaries a tapestry of memories.

During intermission, we were greeted by gala chair Lindsey Heinz and honorary cochairs Jamila & Dr. Michael Weaver and Barbara & Robin Foster. Phyllis Washington was recognized for her years of support with the Janet K. Miller Award, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was honored with the Legacy Award. Remarks were followed by more Ailey II performing, including the company’s celebrated Revelations.

Following the performance, we made our way en masse to the neighboring Downtown Marriott Hotel ballroom. As we dined, we were treated to an inspiring performance by local KCFAA dance students, led by Tyrone Aiken. The live auction got heated over a one-of-a-kind artwork by Nick Cave. The piece was a voluminous, embellished, sequined garment, created as part of Cave’s The Color Is fashion experience produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Perhaps the friends bidding against me ultimately felt bad, or simply enjoyed knowing that I would actually wear the artwork garment. Either way, it became mine in the end. When and where shall I wear it? All I know is that it deserves a party of its own. Something will come up—you can count on it.

The evening capped with—what else?—dancing. I had the most glorious time pretending I could keep up with the professional Ailey II dancers on the floor. My line dancing was poor, but like everyone shaking it that night, the spirit was high.

Spotted: Dianne Cleaver, Hilda Fuentes & Allan Gray II, Cleo Parker Robinson, Sharon & John Hoffman, Bunni & Paul Copaken, Ann Baum, Nancy Lee & Jonathan Kemper, Sue & Lewis Nerman, Ratana & Oscar Tshibanda, Tammy Edwards, Lynn & Lance Carlton, Kim Klein & Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, Susan Stanton, Marshall Miller, Toma Wolf, Jermaine Reed, Stephanie Sankar, Maureen McMeel Caroll, Jared Campbell, Crissy Dastrup, Bukeka Blakemore, Wes Crosby, Andrea & Chris Henderson, Calvin Ricks, Jane Gard, Gina Hull, Pamela Bishop, Sheryll Myers

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