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Toledo--Three decades ago, nine friends gathered to celebrate the holiday season. Now, after almost as long, event co-chairs Ed Hoffman and Dick Flock are passing the torch to a new generation of organizers for the Holiday with Heart Gayla.
The 30th anniversary event filled the prestigious Toledo Club on December 2 with revelry as guests moved from the ground floor for the cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres to the third floor for dinner, then back down to the ground floor for coffee, dessert and dancing.
Amid the original paintings and dark wood of the 120-year-old club, which has been in its current home at 14th Street and Madison for 92 years, the dinner brought the past and future together in a night full of mirth, gaiety, hope and nostalgia.
As guests entered, they were greeted by Santa Claus, proffering candy canes. After signing in, they received corsages from committee member Rick Cornett of the Flower Market.
During the dinner, what might have seemed a never-ending stream of speeches passed quickly. Flock, who was at the first dinner in 1978, remembered beginning with nine people, then 27 the next year, when Hoffman came into the fold.
Since then, they’ve shepherded the event through high-end venues across the city, reaching out to make it an inclusive fete and the highlight of the holiday season for northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan’s LGBT community.
Hoffman, who thanked people for their support, was overcome by emotion, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd of over 150 people.
Wayne North, one of the three committee members who are taking up the reins of the event, also spoke, commenting on the inclusiveness of the event and gently teasing some of his heterosexual friends who were in attendance. He and his partner, fellow organizer David Bingham, met at the dinner three years ago, so they were celebrating their anniversary as well.
The event was not, however, simply a party. There was a serious purpose behind the revelry, to raise funds for the Safe Schools Project, a program of Equality Toledo, the University of Toledo School of Law Legal Clinic and Rainbow Area Youth.
The organizers brought out Equality Toledo executive director Kim Welter, who weighed in on the importance of the program, recounting its growth over the last year.
In addition to providing diversity training in some Toledo schools, the Safe School Project was brought into the nearby communities of Bowling Green and Monroe, Michigan, and will be doing trainings throughout the entire Springfield school district.
Organizers did not expect to have an estimate of the donation to the Safe Schools Project until next week.
The organizers also announced that Holiday with a Heart is now a non-profit under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code, which means that patrons can deduct part the ticket cost from their taxes as charitable donations.
Tickets for the dinner were $55, but it was not yet known how much the expenses totaled, including the new requirement to send out receipts so that diners could take their tax deductions.
Hoffman referred to 2007 as a “transition year,” moving into what he hopes will be the next 30 years organized as a formal non-profit organization and expanding further into the LGBT and allied community.
The event is already a solid draw, with people coming from as far away as Pittsburgh to the east and Grand Rapids, Michigan to the west.
“I think the entire evening was absolutely delightful,” Hoffman later said. “Everybody raved about the club.”
“The Toledo Club, in my mind, is the premier location in Toledo,” he continued. “It’s absolutely gorgeous. We had so many people tell us that we have to have it there again.”
“I love the Toledo Club,” said Cornett. “I thought it was a beautiful setting and everyone seemed to be in awe of the place. I hope to return there next year.”
Hoffman, a realtor, is fond of buying properties and refurbishing them, then either selling them or renting them out. His commitment to the heritage of Toledo and the betterment of the LGBT community has him on the board of the Toledo opera, organizing their Primo Divos LGBT group, and he was one of the creators of the now-defunct Toledo Area Pride Center, which was located in a rental property he owns.
His dedication, like that of Flock and Hindall, or the new committee members North, Cornett and Bingham, is what has kept the event going for 30 years. Even though the invitation referred to this year’s installment as Flock and Hoffman’s “swan song,” they will still be involved in the years to come, but stepping aside to let the newcomers take the helm.
The newcomers, meanwhile, are looking forward to their chance to shine.
“Well, I’ve helped them for the past five years in a limited capacity, but I just wanted to get involved and help and give something back to the community,” Cornett concluded.