About 100 patrons and sponsors arriving at the enormous event tent on the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort on Jan. 30 for the VIP opening reception immediately lined up for photo ops with the charismatic speaker.
He would never see any of the people waiting to meet him, however.
Erik Weihenmayer, now 45, lost his sight at age 13. He was accompanied by two-year old Uri, his current guide dog, who patiently stood by as he chatted with admirers.
Having reached the world's "Seven Summits," the highest mountains on each continent, the inspirational climber is unique in the fact that he is blind.
Showing his compassionate nature, in 2010 Weihenmayer and his team marked the anniversary of their Everest climb leading a dozen severely disabled soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan to the top of a 20,000-foot Nepali peak.
Also an author, Weihenmayer did not let his blindness keep him from becoming a middle school teacher for some time, and a wrestling coach as well. He also paraglides, skis and kayaks.
Both affable and witty, he often drops "positive pessimisms." For example, he quipped, "Sure is hot at times, but at least it's humid."
Supporters circulated around a decorative ice carving apropos of Weihenmayer's amazing wintry feats and examined a white textural sculpture executed by Youth Haven youngsters that included "Thank you Erik" in Braille. At noon, the 385 gala attendees converged in the tent to enjoy lunch at tables covered by icy blue cloths within a "mountain cool" décor designed by Milda Vaivada and incorporating simple white bouquets and sparkling crystals galore.
Co-chairs were Kim Collins, who with her husband, Phil, were speaker sponsors. The pre-luncheon gathering was orchestrated by Barbara Meek on behalf of Harmon-Meek Gallery.
Weihenmayer's gripping address and accompanying large-screened videos moved the audience.
Following the lecture, Bert Mcdaniel, tissues in hand, observed "There's not a dry eye in the house."
Jinks Liggett, recently confirmed as Youth Haven executive director, provided a net figure of $568,000 in proceeds from ticket sales at $250 per person, sponsorships and other donations. Dolph Von Arx, Gold individual sponsor, matched donations up to $150,000 for the renovation of the emergency shelter for children.
Youth Haven provides residential shelter for severely traumatized boys and girls ages 6-16 who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. For more information, see www.youthhaven.net or call239-774-2904.