GTPulse: St. Francis High School Transforms Into Oz For 37th Gladhander

The Traverse community comes together for each other in ways I have never seen before. I see acts of kindness here on a regular basis and I’m impressed by how many events run off of volunteers dedicating their care and time. The 2019 Gladhander just held their 37th gala and it wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers who made the night magical.

Gladhander is an annual gala that raises money for the Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools, with the bulk of the proceeds going to teachers and scholarships. The gala began in 1983 when the schools needed money to avoid closure. The event attracts hundreds of guests who purchase tickets in advance to attend, and is usually quick to sell out. Small and large scale items go up for a silent auction, with this year’s largest scale items being a 2019 Lincoln MKC, a 2019 Cadillac XT4 or $32,000 in cash. 

Every year St. Francis High School turns into a themed event space for the gala. 

“We get everybody’s ideas, and we put them in a pot and we pick one from that,” Katie Bobrowski, the Gladhander decorations chair said.

Once a theme is chosen Katie begins dividing volunteers by choosing designers. Designers will get a designated hallway, booth or room to be in charge of decorating that aligns with the theme of the night. Volunteers will be dispersed among designers, making the transformation process more efficient and less overwhelming. 

The night takes almost a year to put on, and next year’s theme will be chosen in the next month.

“It’s about a week to put everything up, but we’ve been working for six to eight months on decorations,” Katie said.

This year’s event had 500 volunteers that consisted of parents, faculty, staff, students and even community members with no direct tie to GTACS.

“Parents, grandparents, some of the volunteers are people who just like the school, and we’ve got all ages. Five to eighty-five,” said GTACS Development Director Wayne Mueller.

The volunteering is also a family affair. Both Katie’s kids and Wayne’s kids are students at GTACS and helped decorate for the event and tear down.

“The whole family has to come and be involved, they’ll all be here after church,” Katie said.

Bridgett Beckwith, also a GTACS parents and Gladhander volunteer took on the task of decorating the large, heated outdoor tent that housed several of the larger auction items, including both cars.

“I volunteer each year to design an area of the event and this year we had a new area. We had the tent and the hallway leading into the tent.”

Katie partners with Jennifer Richards and Judy Bahlog to transform their designated space and they designed this year’s space as the haunted forest. The hallway was made to look like the haunted forest and the gate that leads to the witch’s castle. Naturally the tent was designed to look like the witch’s castle.

“It was a perfect flow. For the haunted forest we had some of the high school art students actually paint all the trees and those turned out really cool. It’s always fun to get them involved and have them be apart of it. Judy’s husband did some laser cut cardboard for us and he made monkey silhouettes that we had hanging throughout the tent and it was really dramatic. My in-laws created a chandelier to mimic the one that was in the witch’s castle.”

Bridgett, Jennifer and Judy meet and exchange texts and emails throughout the year talking about plans for their designed space as well as coming in to take measurements of what space they’ll be decorating. Bridgett has been volunteering for three years and Jennifer has been volunteering for the event for 13 years.

“When I started I just thought that I’d like to help Katie and then the next thing I knew I was in charge of a section,” Bridgett said. “I’m so glad that she trusted me with that because it’s cool to take ownership of it and you have a lot of pride when it’s all said and done. People are so grateful for the time put in. I used to volunteer when I was a student at St. Francis so to be able to do this is very full circle.”



Categories: GTPulse