The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 29, 2012

Successful soirees: Friends of St. Avips to hold 50th ball

JOPLIN, Mo. — Maridan Kassab doesn’t need the scrapbook from the first St. Avips Ball to recall exactly what she wore that night, what the decor looked like and where it was held. Her memories are as fresh as if it were yesterday.

“I wore a blue silk top with a peplum,” she said. “We all had corsages, of course, and long white gloves.”

Her memories are impressive because the city’s most stylish annual fundraiser, a benefit for the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, is celebrating 50 years this spring. But the grand affairs have made such an impression on those who attended, they’re not soon forgotten.

Kassab, an original member of the Friends of St. Avips, said the ball was begun in response to the opening of the Ozark Artist Guild in the Zelleken House at Fourth and Sergeant streets. It had been purchased through the generosity of Spiva, a philanthropist, but money was needed for the day-to-day operation.

“They had just formed, and they were begging for money,” Kassab said.

As Kassab tells it, her husband, Anthony, was reading a Civil War book at the time and became enamored with the history of the St. Cecilia Society in Charleston, S.C. The society, formed in 1766, was named for the patron saint of music and for 54 years its annual concert series formed what historians have called one of the most sophisticated musical phenomena in the nation.

Anthony Kassab thought a ball would be fun.

“It sounds funny coming from a guy, but you gotta remember, he had a dress shop,” she said, laughing.

A committee of women met in early 1963 to formulate plans for such an event, and it was suggested that they spell Spiva backward.

In just weeks, that first ball took shape and came together on Tuesday, April 16, as a grand affair in the Empire Room and Joplin Club of the Connor Hotel.

“The nationally famous Russ Carlyle and his orchestra performed,” Kassab said. “But we had to hold the ball on a Tuesday to accommodate the band’s schedule.”

Tickets were $10 per person, by invitation only, with 220 people in attendance. The ball didn’t begin until 9 p.m., with a buffet served at 11 p.m.

George and Agnes Spiva were dressed spectacularly and led the grand entrance.

“Everyone marched around. It was fun,” said Kassab, who was 28 years old at the time.

The elegant event netted a $1,037 check in support of the arts.

“And the rest is history,” noted the Spivas’ daughter, Joy Spiva Cragin, with a laugh.

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