The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 27, 2011

DONATE: Branson benefit raises more than $200,000

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni and Dave Woods

BRANSON, Mo. — A live concert and telethon staged Sunday night by Branson entertainers took in $208,000 for Joplin tornado relief. More donations are expected, organizers said Monday.

“We still have a huge stack of credit cards we need to process,” said spokeswoman Hollye Gurley. “We expect that number to go up.”

Proceeds from the event — put on by the League of Branson Theatre Owners and Show Producers — will go to help rebuild St. John’s Regional Medical Center and to help re-equip the Joplin School District’s band program.

In addition to monetary donations, the event took in an unknown number of donated musical instruments that will be given to Joplin High School, which suffered $280,000 in lost instruments when the school was destroyed by the May 22 tornado.

The Branson event was held at The Mansion Theatre, owned by Gene Bicknell, a longtime Pittsburg, Kan., businessman. It included performances by more than 30 entertainers as well as a silent auction.

More than 20 volunteers at a time, including Branson celebrities, operated donation lines in 30-minute shifts during and after the event.

Gurley said the event drew a live audience of 1,000.

Among them were Sherry Lee, of Olathe, Kan.; Joan Larve, of Moran, Kan.; and Marge Beasley, of Urich, Mo. All three have a personal connection to Joplin. They are nurses, having graduated from Pittsburg State University’s nursing program. They did their clinical rotations together at St. John’s in Joplin more than 25 years ago, and they traveled to Branson to support the relief effort.

“It just hit home,” Lee said, as she and her friends looked at front pages of The Joplin Globe from the days that followed the tornado. The pages were displayed in the lobby of the theater before and during the telethon. “You don’t expect a thing like this will ever happen. I walked the halls of that hospital. It’s devastating.”

Larve agreed.

“I can’t believe the total devastation of the hospital,” she said, tearing up a little. “I just can’t believe it. The people in Joplin have to keep the faith.”

“It’s overwhelming,” Beasley added.

Gurley said she was pleased with the amount of money raised.

“Several groups had cautioned us not to set goals too high because of donor fatigue,” she said. “With so many tragedies this year, from flooding to tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama and Oklahoma, and the economy being down, we knew there would be challenges. We were really pleased, and we think we’ll see that figure go up. ”

Line still open

THOSE WHO WANT TO DONATE may do so through the end of the week by calling 855-556-7546 or visiting