TONAWANDA — A silver anniversary is an occasion to celebrate. At Cardinal O'Hara High School, this year's Hawk-tion, held on Nov. 9, celebrated its 25th year of the school's most successful fundraiser.
Mike Rizzo, a 1980 graduate and president of the board of trustees, stated that in 1993, the school wanted to start a new fundraiser and suggested having a dinner event.
"At the time, I wasn't involved with O'Hara," Rizzo said. "I was invited to the meeting because they asked me to cater the dinner. I went to the meeting and by the time I left, I was chairman." Rizzo has remained at the helm of the event each year since.
The first year the board hoped to make $10,000 and successfully doubled that. After this year's event the dinner and auction raised almost 1 million dollars.
"There are so many people who have helped make it a success," Rizzo said, "especially Ann Kasperak and Ann Thiebolt who have helped from day one."
When Thiebolt volunteered to help with the first Hawk-Tion in 1993, little did she realize that she would continue to have a key role in the school's premier fundraising event for the next 25 years. The six Thiebolt children graduated from O'Hara starting in 1992 and ending in 2002.
"I enjoyed volunteering for everything," Thiebolt said. "That first year of Hawk-tion was so last minute with all the things to do. We were all just learning." Thiebolt started the volunteer venture when asked by Rizzo to help arrange and decorate the hundreds of auction baskets.
"I learned how to make auction baskets from Mike and have enjoyed doing them ever since," Thiebolt said.
Mary Ellen Holler, a former art teacher at O'Hara, also took on the job of volunteering.
"Experiencing how the O'Hara community worked together under the leadership of Mike and many others behind the scene just warms my heart. I was away from O'Hara for a few years but that warm feeling in my heart returned this year when I received the invitation to the 25th gala celebration. When Mike would say, 'Our theme is a jungle, let's go big', I was given the freedom to go big. An artist's dream! Before you knew it we had vines coming off the ceiling, tigers, elephants, monkeys and Tarzan, all made of paint, cardboard and a few wood structural forms. We were in the jungle. I never did this alone. Students, parents, alumni and friends of O'Hara would show up at night to paint, hammer or simply carry items into place. The Hawk-tion is more than a fundraiser it is a display of O'Hara pride."
This year's 25th anniversary gala included a full-course dinner by Banchetti by Rizzo's, with students in the school's Culinary Institute at O'Hara program assisting with dinner preparation.
CIAO students are enrolled in a nationwide two-year program that develops students into restaurant and food service industry entrepreneurs.
Bidding on hundreds of auction items took place prior to the sit-down dinner served in the school gym, which was transformed into this year's silver anniversary theme. A live auction began as dinner ended and concluded with a grand prize. The auction featured unique experiences including travel packages, autographed sports memorabilia and trips to local attractions. The event has raised nearly $1 million since its inception. Funds are used for scholarships, general needs and funding for new, student driven programs including the school's engineering program and other STREAM initiatives.
"We have been extremely fortunate to have such fantastic people to help make Hawk-tion a success, year in and year out," said Renee Orr, director of development. "Without the volunteers we would not be able to manage an event of this size and scope. Our donors, many of whom have supported Cardinal O'Hara High School for many, many years, are also key to the success of Hawk-tion. Their support is immeasurable. We look forward to 25 more years of celebrating with our parents, alumni and friends."
"Hundreds of volunteers, including students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff work to ensure the success of the Hawk-tion," Rizzo said. "I always hoped it would expand. It's a fantastic way to bring people into the building and see how amazing it is and what supportive and creative people we have."