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May 04, 2006 - VOA Guild Got RED HOT at Irene Zarlengo Toast!

What: 10th Anniversary of The Guild of Volunteers of America, founded by Mrs. Zarlengo

Where: Grand Hyatt Denver Downtown

When: May 4, 2006

Ticket Prices: $150 and up

Beneficiary: Volunteers of America Guild, Volunteers of America Brandon Center and Theodora House

Honoree(s): Irene Zarlengo

EMCEE: Ed Greene, CBS 4

Gala Chairperson(s): Diana Murdy and Mary Rossick Kern

Corporate Chairperson(s): Wayne Murdy and Jerry Kern

Founders: Irene Zarlengo

Co-Chair(s): Dinner: Susan Barnhill and Terri Biddinger; Kickoff Chair: Dianne Eddolls

Committee Members: Dinner: Susan Anttonen, Natalie Aronson, LaFawn Biddle, Betty Damon Blecker, Deanna Brown, Elenora Crichlow, Carol James, Kathy Klugman, Dianna Kunz, Teresa Murdy, Bryan Pulte, Eunice Romano, Anne Schmitt, Deb Smith, Sharon Smith, Denise Kenny-Snyder, Alberte Spencer, Herminia Vigil, Maryann Yuthas, Dianne Zarlengo; Print Design: Barbara Greene; Video Tribute: Julie Lucas, Brian Lucas, Mary Rossick Kern; Menu: Irene Zarlengo and Dianne Zarlengo; VOA Liaison: Michael James

President(s): Dianna Kunz

Speaker: John Schafer, Carol James, Dianna Kunz, Bill Husted

Libations: Applejack Wine and Spirits

Entertainment: Special appearance by Scott Scully, Opera Colorado and "True Colors," a tribute song sung by Becky Barnett

Music: J. Gerardo and Friends, Mariachis Band

Sponsors: Gold: Mary Rossick Kern and Jerry Kern, Newmont Mining Corp., Qwest Communications; Silver: Anna and John Sie; Benefactor: Susan and Jim Anttonen, Linda Shoemaker and Steve Brett - Brett Family Foundation, Erna Butler, Coors Brewing Company, Jones International University, Semple Brown Design, Vierra Family Foundation

Attendance: 280

Attire: Festive cocktail with a touch of red!


Decor/Rental Company: David Squires and Design Works

Board of Directors: Herminia Vigil, President; Myrna Mourning, President-Elect; Maryann Yuthas, Past President; Teresa Murdy, 1st Vice President Membership; Irene Zarlengo and Diana Murdy, 2nd Vice President Ways & Means; Amy Forey-Burgett, 3rd Vice President Brandon and Theodora Projects; Betty Blecker, Corresponding Secretary; Kristine Duncan, Recording Secretary; Angela Alexis, Treasurer; Toni Butler, Parliamentarian.

Blacktie Photos by: Elizabeth Byrnes Crony

 Honoree Irene Zarlengo, center, posed with Event Co-Chairs Diana Murdy, left, and Mary Rossick Kern
Honoree Irene Zarlengo, center, posed with Event Co-Chairs Diana Murdy, left, and Mary Rossick Kern

Elizabeth Byrnes Crony

It may have been cold and dreary weather on May 4, 2006 but inside at the “Toasting of Irrrene!” the temperature was RED HOT! The night of celebration was a salute to Irene Zarlengo, the founder of the Volunteers of America Guild, and the hundreds of dedicated guild members who have touched the lives of many over the past decade.

Guests gathered in the hallway of the Grand Hyatt Denver, listening to festive Italian music, enjoying hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, sipping champagne and greeting the guest of honor. Governor Owens and Mayor Hickenlooper sent along a proclamation, declaring May 4, 2006 as “Irene Zarlengo Day.”

"God looked down and saw that we needed an angel," Dianna Kunz, President and CEO of VOA told the guests, referring to Irene Zarlengo, founder of the VOA Guild. "I learned fundraising one-on-one the Zarlengo way very early on," joked Dianna. With her heavy, thick accent, Irene told me, 'we don't sell tickets, we sell TABLES!" Well, as the saying goes...the rest is history. The guild has helped to raise over $1.25 million in support of Volunteers of America during the past ten years!

Diana Murdy and Mary Rossick Kern Co-Chaired the evening. “We wanted something different for the night,” said Mary. Fun was had by all – the night sizzled from the yards of floor length drapes around the room, creating a cozy environment; to the luscious red rose arrangements on each of the dinner table. Favorites of Irene were incorporated into the décor including her love of shoes and champagne!

As the guests sat down for the feast, hand picked by Irene herself and her daughter Dianne; they were transported from Italy to Mexico, as a Mariachis band circled the dining room. Grand Hyatt Denver Executive Chef John Treusein and Executive Sous Chef Robert Marquez specially prepared a marinated mushroom salad, served in a martini glass, which was followed by a beef Roulade, stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, ricotta cheese and Marsala sauce. Pastry Chef Sandra Adams took desert to the next level – creating miniature red (chocolate) pumps filled with mocha pot de crème.

John Schafer, General Manager of the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center and former General Manager of the Grand Hyatt Denver was the first to toast Irene. He described the first time he met Irene when he was starting out as the GM in 1989. He walked into the lobby and then the ballroom and was surrounded by chairs and tables. As he was inquiring as to what was going on, he was approached by Irene. “Who are you?” she asked in her heavy accented voice, as though he was there to give her a problem. Well, a great and long relationship evolved, as Irene continued to hold court and many events, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the now Grand Hyatt Denver. “We all love you - you are family," concluded John.

"No wonder there are hurricanes named Irene," said Carol James, VOA Guild President from 1997-1999, following John. "You are a strong force to reckon with but your powers of persuasion are famous...especially when there is champagne involved!"

The gentle ribbing concluded with the Denver Post’s Bill Husted. He read a few of the columns that he had written about Irene over the years. “When I first met Irene, she kept telling me that she as a ‘kook’ and well, I had been told this by others and I was inclined to agree,” Bill quipped. “Then I went to her house for a home cooked meal and realized that the whole time she was saying she was a ‘cook.’ Well, it turned out she was a great cook but with her accent, I had no idea what she was saying!”

"Of all the 1,000 of people I have written about over the years - you are my favorite," Bill concluded.

Ed Greene of CBS4 and KYGO was the master of ceremonies for the festivities. "When I first met Irene, she informed me that she wanted to always emcee her events," Ed told the guests. "Well, here I am ten years later!"

The sizzling celebration continued with a video surprise, cleverly titled “Desperate Fundraiser,” based on the hit TV drama, “Desperate Housewives.” Ten years of memories scrolled by, as the voiceover described a few scenarios and events from the past decade. The ‘mini drama’ concluded with a photomontage of wonderful memories, and was accompanied by the song “True Colors,” performed by Becky Barnett.

Scott Scully closed the event and brought the guests to their feet, when he sang "A Song for Irene" in Italian. He made his Opera Colorado debut as Perdillo in Mozart's The Abduction from The Seraglio.

Since its inception, the Guild has made profound differences in so many lives. It has actively raised funds, community awareness and thousand of dollars of in-kind contributions for two VOA shelters: the Brandon Center, Colorado’s largest shelter for battered and homeless women and their children and the Theodora House, an overnight shelter for single homeless women struggling with addiction and mental illness.

Each year, the Guild produces two benefits that raise funds needed to support these vital programs and services. With Irene at the helm, such events are as much “fun-raising” as fundraising and have ranged from daring fashion shows and a turn-of-the-century jubilee, to the eyebrow-raising combination of “Red Wine and Seafood? Of Course!”

Philanthropy is Irene Zarlengo’s avocation, born of her experiences as a young girl. She and her family saw the effects war had on families who suffered profound loss, devastation and poverty. During the war, while living Italy, hungry, lonely and homeless people were the mainstay of the Zarlengo’s family household. Their doors were always open to feed a hungry mouth, to provide shelter and clothing for those with nothing and to offer solace to the lonely. It was through these experiences that Mrs. Zarlengo’s spirit of compassion was born.

Irene has raised over $6 million to benefit charities throughout the Denver community over the past 40 years. She started her fundraising as a volunteer for the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Other organizations have included the Denver Art Museum and the Central City Opera. From the arts, Irene moved on to help raise awareness and funds for Denver’s growing homeless population. For ten years, she volunteered with the Samaritan House, helping to raise over $1.5 million to secure that the doors were open to thousands in need of shelter. As the founder of the first guild for the Food Bank of the Rockies, Irene conceived of an annual event that has raised more than $500,000 for the agency, the largest food bank supplier in the state. Inspired by this success, she founded the first VOA Guild, honoring the Volunteers of America 100 years of service to Colorado.

VOA Guild President Hermina Vigil and Dianna Kunz, President and CEO of VOA presented a check for $125,000, representing the funds raised from the dinner. The total exceeded that to aprox. $180,000, as the donations continued to pour in after the event! The festivities ended with a champagne toast - of course - and a standing ovation. A wonderful tribute to a lady who founded the VOA Guild and helped to raise over $1.25 million in support of Volunteers of America during the past ten years.

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