Medieval castles and garden grandeur, lords and ladies, knights in shining armor, pomp and pageantry – plus plenty of fun and surprises.  All of this and more awaits patrons to Le Grand Bal 2008 – “Renaissance of the Arts” – a gala evening of art, fine dining, dancing and entertainment March 29 at Lamar University, with the Lamar Friends of the Arts as its hosts.
Now in its 34th year, Le Grand Bal is the major annual fund-raiser that benefits the College of Fine Arts and Communication. Activities include a reception and silent art auction from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Dishman Art Museum, with a gourmet buffet, dancing and entertainment from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Montagne Center. Guests will dance to the music of Beaumont ’s Night & Day Orchestra, under the direction of Wayne Dyess, and Eclipse, a nine-piece dance band from Houston.
The black-tie event honors Gay and Bill Scott of Nederland for their longtime support of Lamar University , the arts and the community, with Beverly and Carl Parker of Port Arthur serving as chairs.
“My heart is in education,” said Beverly Parker, who served on the faculty of Lamar State College-Port Arthur for 38 years, including many years as chair of the Department of Liberal Arts. “Le Grand Bal is a wonderful way – and a fun way – to make financial support available to students. We sometimes forget just what a struggle it is to go to school – to get tuition together and buy books. All of that is why we support Le Grand Bal.”
During more than three decades in the Texas Legislature – the Senate and the House of Representatives – Carl Parker was one of Lamar’s most important advocates. His tenure included service as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and membership on the Legislative Budget Board. He is the only legislator ever to be elected to serve as speaker pro tem of the House and president pro tem of the Senate. The Parker Building on the Lamar University campus is named in his honor.
Honorees Gay and Bill Scott are both Lamar graduates, with Bill well known as a successful businessman and community supporter and Gay as a tireless volunteer for efforts ranging from the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to Catholic Charities, St. Anne School and Birthright.
Bill has a number of ventures to his credit and now is chairman and chief executive officer of TGS Development. He and his brother, Dick, have been involved in family businesses since the 1970s – Beverly Parker calls the brothers “business geniuses.” Bill serves on Lamar University ’s Campaign Cabinet, on the Lamar College of Business Board of Advisors and recently was elected president of the Three Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“Gay and Bill have wonderful hearts,” Beverly Parker said. “They don’t want to talk about all the good things they do. But they do a lot for Lamar. They help the community, not only financially, but through all sorts of civic endeavors.”
Funds generated by the Bal enable the Friends of the Arts to support scholarships and educational enhancements such as master classes, visiting artists and trips to clinics and workshops that expand learning opportunities for students and add to faculty members’ academic credentials. These funds provide faculty enrichment and enable students to expand their horizons. Guest lecturers and artists-in-residence become catalysts for inspiring students’ imaginations.
Beyond the vital support it provides, Beverly Parker said, Le Grand Bal provides a golden opportunity for Southeast Texans to get together and perhaps acquire new artistic treasures.
“I always think people are the most important thing – students and those who support them. To begin with, the art exhibition is always wonderful. A lot of the art our family has acquired over the years has come from the Bal exhibition and auction.”
The art auction features about 350 works by students, faculty and alumni – a diverse range of original painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, ceramics and jewelry. The exhibition is now on display in the Dishman Art Museum, which invites early bidding, said museum assistant Alicia Hargreaves. Visitors may submit bids during museum hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday), Hargreaves said. The Dishman Art Museum is on MLK Jr. Parkway at East Lavaca , phone (409) 880-8959.
Marty Craig, Les Warren and their decorations committee will transform the Montagne Center into a wondrous Bal-room from days of yore – a melange of medieval magic. Patrons will enter the Bal through a garden gate, escorted by costumed students, Craig said. Centerpieces on guest tables are softly illuminated vases filled with elegant calla lilies.
Buffet tables will feature ice sculptures brimming with shrimp, the signature dish of Le Grand Bal, surrounded by large iron candelabra and greenery. Guests will dance under gold chandeliers in the throne room and gardens of a medieval castle.
“As always, there will be magic provided by inventive students who dare not spoil their surprises,” said Craig, who was Bal chair in 2000 and has been a Friends of the Arts board member more than 30 years, including service as president, vice present, secretary and treasurer.
The entertainment and cuisine are among other high points.
“The bands are great,” Beverly Parker said. “If you don’t enjoy one, you’re going to enjoy the other. You can dance forever, or you can merely listen.”
During the Dishman reception, guests will enjoy hors d’oeuvres of honey wheat quesadillas with toasted pecans and phyllo tapenade with fresh basil.  Several buffets at the Montagne will feature the perennially popular boiled jumbo shrimp with remoulade and cocktail sauce; romaine salad with strawberries, grape tomatoes and toasted walnuts; carved prime rib of beef with roasted baby red potatoes and grilled vegetable medley; chicken roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach with roasted red pepper sauce; roasted garlic cheese grits; onion-battered green beans with wasabi and hollandaise; and mini-cracked wheat rolls. Dessert offerings are chambord chocolate truffles, dusted lace pralines and Kahlua raspberry trifle, complemented by a coffee station with cordials.
All will be prepared under the direction of Ricardo Saldana, executive chef for Chartwells, the Lamar catering service. Francelia “Fran” Madrigal is the sous/pastry chef. Matthew Peterson is Chartwells’ director of catering.
The Friends of the Arts organized in 1973 under the leadership of then-Dean Brock
Brentlinger, staging its first Bal in 1975. The event continued with Jimmy Simmons at the helm when he was dean of the college. The event has raised millions of dollars for Lamar.
“Private funding provided by the Friends of the Arts through Le Grand Bal has become increasingly important to Lamar in order to maintain excellence in our fine arts programs,” Simmons said. “More and more of the enrichment for Lamar’s music, theatre and visual arts programs must come from local sources and external funding. It’s a tremendous asset to have such a strong support group.”
Schultz adds: “We could not attract the best and brightest students or provide the appropriate educational experiences without the support the Friends bring to us through fund-raising and other activities. We often say we’re no longer state-supported but merely state-assisted. The arts, in particular, are expensive endeavors.
“The nice thing about the Bal is that it’s a great party, and we raise a lot of money,” Schultz said. “It is a very positive thing that the community recognizes, and it always makes our patrons feel good about helping the arts at Lamar. The Friends of the Arts are a tremendous help to students and faculty in their ability to do things they otherwise would not be able to do. It also helps us attract students because of the scholarships.
“The party is great fun, but the real fun is in planning and seeing it evolve. It is always a wonderful evening. It is a joy to watch the Bal come together because everyone gets so involved. Each person takes his or her area of expertise and puts it forward to make this a great event.”
Members of the Bal committee, in addition to the Parkers, Craig and Warren, are Nell McCallum Morris, invitations; Renee Bennett, Iris Nathan and Fern Roos, food; Melanie Dishman and Paula “Torchy” Salter, reservations; Joy Crenshaw, Joe Domino, Gisela Houseman and Greg Thompson, underwriters; Adonia Placette, atmosphere; and Donna Rae Wisor and Louise Wood, publicity.
The Friends of the Arts first staged Le Grand Bal in 1975, with “The Arts” as its theme. Le Grand Bal has since run the gamut of motifs, including: “Patriotic/1776" (1876), “European Elegance” (1978) “Las Vegas” (1980), “Roman Holiday” (1982), “Mexican Fiesta” (1983), “Old Vienna,” (1984),  “Court of Louis XIV/Palace of Versailles” (1985), “Texas Sesquicentennial Garden Party” (1986); “Le Jazz Hot” (1987), “Under the Big Top” (1988) and “New York, New York” (1989).
Recent themes include “Treasures of the Gulf Coast” (2007), honoring Sheila and Walter Umphrey; “A Toast to the Arts” (2006), honoring Frank Messina; “Passport to the Arts” (2005), honoring Judy and George Dishman; “Spring into the Arts” (2004), honoring Nell McCallum Morris; “Viva Las Victor” (2003), honoring Vic Rogers; “King of the Road” (2002), honoring Jerry Reese; “2001: An Art Odyssey” (2001), honoring Lamar President Jimmy Simmons; “76 Trombones” (2000), honoring those who have supported the arts at Lamar; Lamar’s 75th Anniversary (1999), honoring Betty Greenberg; “The French Connection” (1998); “Rock Around the Clock” (1997); “Road to Rio” (1996); “An Affair to Remember” (1995); “A Night at the Oscars” (1994); and “Hooray for Hollywood” (1993).

Tickets are $150 per person or $300 per couple, with underwriting opportunities available at levels ranging from $750 to $10,000. For additional information or reservations, call the Lamar University College of Fine Arts and Communication, (409) 880-8137.