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Le Grand Bal ‘Cardinal Express’ honors Sallye Keith

keithThe fabled Orient Express luxury train conjures up images of exotic destinations, breathtaking Alpine vistas, and exquisite cuisine all experienced within the plush Art Deco confines of an iconic mode of transportation.

Le Grand Bal’s “Cardinal Express” makes a special stop for one night only on Saturday, March 23, to transport guests on one of the most celebrated and romantic journeys in the world.

Presented by Lamar University’s Friends of the Arts, Le Grand Bal is the major annual fundraiser for the College of Fine Arts and Communication. The gala evening features a silent art auction and reception in the Dishman Art Museum followed by a gourmet buffet, dancing and entertainment in the Montagne Center.

This year’s event honors Sallye Jones Keith of Beaumont, a beloved philanthropist and civic leader, for her myriad contributions to Lamar University, the community and the arts.

“Sallye Keith is one of the most caring and generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” said Russ Schultz, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. “She cares a great deal about Beaumont, and particularly the people in Beaumont. Over the years, she has shown a great deal of interest in assisting many worthy causes.”

Keith, a recipient of the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lamar University, has been a force in Southeast Texas for more than half a century. A native of  Galesburg, Ill., she came to Beaumont in 1957 to become young adult director of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The YWCA is a labor of love for Keith, now a board member emeritus. The Sallye Keith Annex is named in her honor.

In 1986, she and her late husband, William Carroll Keith Jr., established the Alice Keith Memorial Endowed Fellowship/Scholarship in Lamar’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, with recipients known as Keith Scholars. An honorary member of the Friends of the Arts board, she is a longtime supporter of all the arts programs at Lamar, including Lamar Theatre, which honored her with a star on its Wall of Fame, and Le Grand Bal, which named her its “Sweetheart” in 1997.

Keith has been a member or patron of the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont Civic Opera Buffs, Beaumont Heritage Society, Camp Fire, First United Methodist Church, Hotel Beaumont, International Club, Jefferson Theatre Preservation Society, Mental Health Association, Pilot Club, South East Texas Arts Council and Triangle AIDS Network, among other organizations.

Allison Nathan Getz, senior financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, is the chair of Le Grand Bal “Cardinal Express.” She and her husband Michael, an attorney and city councilman in Beaumont, are very active in Lamar’s Friends of the Arts.

“Every community has shining lights. Allison is one of those for Beaumont,” said Schultz. “Whenever there’s a need for volunteers, Allison is always there.”

Le Grand Bal provides valuable support for the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

Funds generated by the Bal enable the Friends of the Arts to contribute to 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. The funds provide faculty enrichment and enable students to expand their horizons.

The theme of this year’s Bal was an easy decision for committee members.

"We selected the theme because our honoree, Sallye Keith, has a lifelong love of trains and that mode of transportation,” said Getz. “So, in honor of her and her interests, we decided to do a takeoff of the ‘Orient Express’ idea.” 

The Orient Express epitomizes luxury and the golden age of rail travel. Launching in 1883, it left from Paris to steam through the Alps, Budapest and Bucharest to Constantinople (Istanbul). Those destinations are still served by the Orient Express today, which has since added London, Venice, and other cities to its route. The train also famously served as a backdrop to Agatha Christie’s famous mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express,” featuring the inestimable Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

“Cardinal Express” takes off with a silent auction and reception at the Dishman Art Museum. Guests will have the opportunity to bid on original artwork at the auction from 7 – 9 p.m. The art auction features more than 200 works by students, faculty and alumni – a diverse range of original painting, drawing, print-making, photography, ceramics and jewelry.

The entertainment at the Bal, from 8 p.m. to midnight, will be provided by The Night & Day Orchestra, and Commercial Art, a Houston band specializing in vintage soul, classic rock and a wide variety of music.

Guests will dine on a sumptuous feast prepared under the direction of Ricardo Saldana, executive chef for Chartwells, the Lamar catering service. Dishes include beef tenderloin with au jus; chicken with artichoke and Marsala wine sauce; the ever-popular jumbo boiled shrimp accompanied with spicy remoulade or cocktail sauce; a gourmet side-dish bar featuring creamy macaroni and cheese or grits, which you can top with bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, black and green olives, cheddar cheese and sour cream; bok choy Oriental salad; and mini cheese biscuits. The decadent desserts will be a flourless chocolate cake, banana crème brulee eclairs with hot fudge sauce, poached pear slices with sauvignon sauce and assorted truffles.

The Friends of the Arts organized in 1973 and staged its first Bal in 1975. The event has raised millions of dollars for Lamar. Over the years, Lamar talents have shared the spotlight with nationally known entertainment headliners. Activities, decor, entertainment and the overall evening are designed to reflect the talents of Lamar art, theater, music, dance and communication students.

Event committee chairs for “Cardinal Express” include Allison Nathan Getz, chair; Susan McCartney Reece and Lauren Martin, atmosphere; Megan Young, art auction and exhibition; Iris Nathan, food; Sherrie Branick, invitations; Sharon Forret, publicity; and Albert Nolen, reservations.

This year’s underwriting committee included Barbara Barron, Sandra Clark, Gerald Farah, and Paige and Morris Windham.

Le Grand Bal has run the gamut of motifs over the years. Recent themes include “Some Enchanted Evening” (2012), honoring Chuck and Becky Mason; “Rhapsody in LU” (2011), honoring Judy and James Black; “A Night in Casablanca” (2010), honoring the Renaissance of Lamar University; “Red and White Le Grand Bal” (2009), honoring Jo and Tommy Vance; “Renaissance of the Arts” (2008), honoring Gay and Bill Scott; “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; and “Viva Las Victor” (2003), honoring Vic Rogers.

“A city that has a university is a much more special place than a city that doesn’t,” said Schultz. “The key to great quality of life in any area is arts and culture. Without Grand Bal, we would just be able to offer our coursework without the external outreach and quality that these resources provide.”

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.