by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — The 50th annual Benedictine College Scholarship Ball, already a Top 10 fundraising event in the Kansas City area, eclipsed all records for attendance and donations in its return to an in-person event on Feb. 26 with a record 1,000 gathered in the ballroom at the Overland Park Convention Center.
The program, co-chaired by Kevin and Colleen “Cocoa” O’Malley and Lené Westerman, included produced videos, student features, speeches and honorees that moved people to give far beyond expectations.
“We had more than a thousand people in the room, a record level of sponsorships, a record level in the Fund-A-Raven and the highest fundraising total of all time: $2.1 million . . . over a million dollars more than the previous record,” said Benedictine College president Stephen D. Minnis. “What an amazing outpouring of generosity!”
In addition to its entertainment and fundraising aspects, the ball also features the presentation of the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict. The college established the award in 1969 to recognize alumni and friends who have supported charitable institutions, provided civic or religious leadership and demonstrated professional excellence.
This year, the prestigious award went to Lené Westerman and Larry and Janet Munro Wilcox. Their acceptance speeches can be viewed on the Scholarship Ball website. In her speech, Westerman established a new scholarship in honor of her family with a $25,000 check.
The ball also featured speeches by the president and by a student. This year, senior Arturo Hernandez spoke about his journey from a small farm outside of Veracruz, Mexico, to the United States and Benedictine College. He told of his father’s death when he was a child, his mother’s struggles to support the family and provide a future for her children, and of his father’s words of instruction about riding a bicycle: “Keep your eyes facing forward. ¡Palante, siempre palante! Forward, always forward.”
When he heard those words used at Benedictine College, the words of Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, who sent monks to the American West to establish a school in the service of God, Hernandez knew Benedictine was the place for him.
“Through your generosity, people like me can fulfill their American dream,” Hernandez said. “Through your generosity, I will be the first in the family to graduate from college. Through your generosity, my mother’s dreams will be realized in me.
“So, tonight I say to every single one of you, on behalf of my mother and me, ¡Gracias! Thank you! And remember, forward, always forward!”
Minnis also mentioned the archabbot in his speech, and used “forward, always forward” as a theme. He recounted the success of the college in the past 15 years, mentioning the doubling of enrollment, the expansion of programs like engineering and architecture, and the construction of new residence halls, academic buildings, and athletic facilities. He spoke of how the college would continue to move forward with the new vision to Transform Culture in America.
“The answer has always been before us,” Minnis said. “It is our mission of community, faith and scholarship.
“In a world of loneliness and polarization, community is the answer.
“In an age of hopelessness and incivility, faith is the key.
“And in a ‘post-truth’ era that is information rich but analysis poor, scholarship is the foundation.
“We are committed to bringing community, faith and scholarship to the country to transform the culture. Because right now, Benedictine College has never been stronger, and the future has never looked brighter. We are at the dawn of a new age — a new Benedictine College that embraces the things of the past with a new vision for the future.
“And I’m asking you to join us to make an impact on the culture and the future of this country.”
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