City historian Junia F. Stanton wanted to start a tradition in 1984, hoping to re-create the swanky atmosphere of Hotel Woodruff on Public Square, which was demolished in 1976.
That tradition, the annual Mayor's Ball, has created memories built on its own foundation. The 25th ball will be held Nov. 8.
The Mayor's Ball benefits the Jefferson Community College Foundation and, over the years, has aided 28 other local nonprofit organizations. Since its inception, more than half a million dollars has been raised for nonprofit groups, including the foundation.
"Even though the event has evolved over the years, it still tries to keep the spirit of the original. The community comes together to celebrate," said Rande S. Richardson, executive director of the Jefferson Community College Foundation.
At the first Mayor's Ball in 1984, then-Mayor T. Urling Walker and his wife, Mabel, had the first dance. This year, they are honorary co-chairpersons.
"It brings in the holiday season, and the young and the old get together," said Mrs. Walker. "The young people get a chance to dress up, instead of just wearing jeans."
Mr. Walker said he knew the Mayor's Ball was becoming a city fixture approximately after its third year.
"When you start these things, you never know how they're going to turn out," he said.
He said that Mrs. Stanton, who held the unpaid post of city historian from 1974 to 1991, would ask him each year in the ball's early years if she should start organizing the event.
"I said, 'Go for it,'" Mr. Walker said. "I didn't have much to do with it other to lend a name to the ball."
Mr. Walker said he's missed just one ball.
"It's a pleasure to see the community, and the Fort Drum community, represented so well," he said.
Mr. Walker served as mayor from 1984 to 1992. Mrs. Stanton died in 2001.
The ball benefits the JCC Foundation and one nonprofit each year. Mr. Richardson said the division, since 1991, has been 75 percent to the foundation and 25 percent to the co-hosting nonprofit.
This year, proceeds will be split 50-50 between the foundation and 22 nonprofit agencies that have benefited from the event in the past. Mr. Richardson said the other past recipients no longer exist or could not participate this year. Ball organizers asked the nonprofits to provide a representative to serve on the planning committee.
In some years, especially in the ball's early days, there were more than one or multiple recipients of proceeds. Its first two years benefited only the JCC Foundation.
WALKING THE RED CARPET
To mark its 25th year, the Mayor's Ball has a "silver screen" theme, "Come Walk the Red Carpet."
Besides the red carpet, a version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame will be created on the floor where guests will walk from the Commons at JCC to the ballroom in the McVean Student Center.
The walk will have stars noting past chairmen and chairwomen of the ball. Besides Mr. and Mrs. Walker, several other past chairmen and chairwomen will honored for their service.
The ballroom will be adorned with full-size posters of movies that won picture-of-the-year Academy Awards for the past 24 years.Local actors will play paparazzi and film legend Marilyn Monroe.
Copies of a multiple-page document detailing the event's history will be given to guests as keepsakes.
As in years past, entertainment will be provided by Watertown's Frank Sacci Orchestra and the Rochester-based party band Nik and the Nice Guys.
JCC THE ANCHOR
To ensure that the ball would be a "perpetual" event, organizers in 1991 asked the JCC Foundation to be the ball's anchor organization. JCC provides the administrative, planning and promotional support for the event.
"The college is just the trustee of the ball," said Mr. Richardson. "The event belongs to the community. We just happen to be its guardian."
In 2005 the ball moved from the Dulles State Office building to JCC's Jules Center.
"It allowed the event to grow," said Mr. Richardson.
The ball has sold out the past three years. It has a capacity of 850 guests and 94 corporate tables.
This is the last year Mr. Richardson will oversee the ball as executive director of the JCC Foundation. In February he will begin his job as assistant director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He's expected to assume the executive director position in three years when current foundation director Alex C. Velto departs.
Major underwriting for this year's ball was provided by New York Air Brake Corp., M&T Bank, and Mr. and Mrs. Walker.
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Ex-mayor: old tux may have encore
The Mayor's Ball has outlasted even former Mayor T. Urling Walker's tuxedo.
Mr. Walker said he bought his tuxedo, featuring a red ruffled shirt, in college, and regardless of changing styles, he wore it at every Mayor's Ball, except last year.
"After 24 years, we decided it was time to get a new one," said his wife, Mabel B. Walker.
However, Mr. Walker indicated his old tuxedo may not have seen the last of its days.
"I still have it," he said.
Will it be revived for the 25th ball?
"I might do that if it's not too small," he said, out of earshot of his wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Walker celebrated their 60th anniversary in September. They plan to dance a bit at the ball, but Mr. Walker said they won't be tearing up the dance floor. He said they both have troublesome knees.
"But I think we'll be able to trip around a bit," he said.
Recipients of proceeds
The following have been recipients of proceeds from the annual Mayor's Ball. In some years, there was more than one recipient.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County
American Heart Association
Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County
Association of the United States Army
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the North Country
Children's Home of Jefferson County
Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County.
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Hospice of Jefferson County
Jefferson Community College Foundation
Jefferson County Historical Society
Jefferson County Women's Center (now Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County)
Literacy Volunteers (Now Literacy of Northern New York)
Meals on Wheels
Mental Health Association in Jefferson County
North Country Children's Clinic
North Country Emergency Medical Services Council
Thompson Park Conservancy
Thousand Islands Girl Scout Council
Watertown Community Concerts (no longer exists)
Watertown Urban Mission
Whispering Pines Adult Home
YWCA (no longer exists)