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Community turns out for education gala

The 22nd gala of the Pilot Point Educational Foundation started on a somber note.

Pastor Todd Witte of Midway Church acknowledged the heartache many in attendance were feeling following the death of a Pilot Point student April 12.

“But what I love about Pilot Point and what I know about our community is that in challenging and hard times, we rally together,” Witte said. “From businesses and schools and our church community, we link arms and we love each other well.”

PPISD Superintendent Dan R. Gist had the student’s death on his mind, and said he was grateful to see the community’s support for the foundation.

“Pilot Point’s like that,” Gist said. “They always come out and support the schools and support the teachers.”

The evening included a silent auction that started alongside cocktail hour, during which the Pilot Point High School jazz band played.

“We love to incorporate the students,” foundation president Lee Ann Ray said.

After the dinner ended, there was a live auction led by B.R. Pedigo. Auction committee members Michael Sanders and Darrell Coxsey acted as spotters, looking for new bidders around the room.

There were 60 lots sold in the live auction.

At the end of the festivities, a written announcement was read aloud that Ray, who has served as president for 16 of her 20 years on the board, is resigning effective May 31.

“You know you set the bar extremely high, woman,” toastmaster Steve Sparkman said.

That comment was met with laughter from the crowd.

“On behalf of the community, and especially the kids and the Pilot Point Independent School District, thank you so much for everything that you’ve done,” he said.

Ray was brought to tears when people throughout the room rose to give her a standing ovation.

“I’m speechless,” she said of the experience.

Ray plans to continue to be involved with the foundation, but she wants to take a major step back.

“It’s just time for somebody else to step up to the plate,” Ray said after the gala.

Gist said Ray has “paid her dues” and that she is “the backbone” of the foundation.

“She’s worked on this a long, long time,” Gist said after the gala. “Can’t praise her enough for what she’s done with our education foundation. She’s an amazing, amazing lady.”

The Pilot Point Educational Foundation is administrated by volunteers alone; there is no paid executive director.

Gist and Ray hugged after the conclusion of the event; she emphasized to him that she plans to stay involved.

June Brooks bought into the ‘50s theme, dawning a Frenchy from “Grease” costume complete with a replica Pink Ladies jacket and pastel pink wig.

“I’ve been here since day one and been on the auction committee for the full time, so I’m just kind of keeping up with it and making sure that we get our scholarship money for the kids and the grant money for the teachers,” Brooks said.

Laura Rider dressed up as a Pink Lady with Brooks. Rider and her husband have raised five children, all of whom attended Pilot Point ISD schools.

Two of the five have been recipients of Pilot Point Educational Foundation scholarships, and their senior is one of the 23 students who applied this year.

An average of 14 scholarships are awarded each year by the foundation, according to the scholarship information included in the program.

Those scholarships are about $1,500 each.

As of Saturday night, the foundation has 20 fully funded endowed scholarships, with five additional partial endowments.

The John & Penne Coxsey Endowment and the Friends of Vail Endowment were announced at this year’s gala.

“The endowments have really grown with people giving back,” Ray said.

Each endowment can set specific criteria for the scholarship it funds.

“Some are based on financial need,” Ray said. “Some are based on if you’re going to a vocational school, if you’re going to go to nursing school.”

However, most are willing to adjust the criteria if none of the students applying fit them, she said.

“Most everybody looks at the big picture,” Ray said.

The net revenue for the gala was about $27,000, Ray said Monday.

That’s close to the average for the first 21 years of the gala, $28,562.79, with the highest total in 2006 at $55,804 and the lowest in 2011 at $13,103.57, according to the program.

“For years, I’ve had other foundation presidents call and say, ‘I need to know what the secret is, because y’all can raise lots of money,’” Ray said.

The answer she gives: “It’s Pilot Point.”

Board member Renee Polk said she was glad to see the heavy turnout despite the sadness over the death of a child in the community April 12 and the stormy weather.

“It’s good to see everyone come together to support the cause, the good cause,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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