GREENVILLE — Valerie Baronkin of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and Tom Bryan of Prince of Peace Church will be crowned Regina and Rex of the Mardi Gras Charity Ball this year. The queen and king are being honored for their service to both church and community.
The black tie event will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Greenville on Feb. 18. The Mardi Gras Charity Ball is billed as the largest Catholic function of the Upstate, and has been raising money for the needy since 1930.
“It’s a fund-raiser and a gathering of Catholics,” said Harriet McCambridge, president of the Mardi Gras Board of Directors and a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene Church. “We would like people to come in costume. That’s not necessary, but it is a dressy affair.”
The $75-per-person ticket price includes a cocktail hour, a seven-course meal and dancing to a live band. The bar is open (free) throughout the evening. Money raised from ticket sales and a silent auction goes to Upstate charities; this year HomeWorks, Birthright of Greenville, Christmas in the Park, the Monastery of St. Clare, the neonatal care unit of St. Francis Hospital and St. Anthony of Padua School will be the beneficiaries.
“The board chooses charities that don’t get a lot from United Way and that have a low operating cost,” McCambridge said.
The Mardi Gras Charity Ball is itself a low-cost operation. All the people on the board and all the people who work for it are volunteers. There are no salaries involved in this fund-raising effort. That leaves more money for the beneficiaries, which suits Franciscan Sister Catherine Noecker of St. Anthony.
“The Mardi Gras Ball has been generous with us for a good number of years,” said Sister Noecker, who has been principal of St. Anthony for 18 of those years. “I feel privileged that the Catholic community of Greenville recognizes the opportunity to evangelize that this school affords. They recognize that what we do is valuable.”
The administrator said that the mission school uses the money to fund one or more scholarships for disadvantaged students. The donation varies from year to year, she said, depending on how well-attended the ball is. McCambridge said that the donations recently have been at least $3,000 per beneficiary each year.
This year’s reigning queen of the Mardi Gras Charity Ball, Valerie Baronkin, is well known for her pro-life work in the Piedmont Deanery. She has coordinated the overall deanery-wide movement for the past 10 years, organized the statewide Rosary for Life for six years and the trip to the Washington, D.C., March for Life for three years. She is the facilitator for Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, two outreach efforts for women who are suffering after abortions.
Baronkin is on the parish council at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and coordinates Meals on Wheels at her workplace. She is a board member of various community organizations, including Greenville Technical College and her community pool. She has assisted Helping Families First, the Girl Scouts and Mauldin High School, and has taught religious education for 10 years.
She is a project manager for the Fluor Daniel Company and has been married to Steve Baronkin for 30 years.
The Mardi Gras Ball’s Rex, Tom Bryan, is active in Irish Catholic activities in the Upstate. He organized the Irish Children’s Summer Program, bringing both Catholic and Protestant children from Northern Ireland to South Carolina for summer vacations, and is state director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He is a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus and served as grand knight of the Foothills Council at Prince of Peace Parish. Bryan served on the board of directors of St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville and is a past president of the Pleasantburg Rotary Club. He is married to Beth Bryan.
Len Byrne, who nominated Bryan for the honor, said that the new Mardi Gras Charity Ball king is a man of action.
“Tom is always looking to help in some way,” Byrne said. “He doesn’t wait for things to happen, but makes them happen.”
The dozens of past kings and queens of the Mardi Gras Charity Ball include some of the best-known Catholic names in the Upstate, including Margaret Ann Moon, Andy Pacewic, Cathy Francis, Louis and Joan Sagedy, Timothy Baker, Pearlie Harris and Harold Gallivan.
The charity’s Web site has more information about the Feb. 18 gala: www.mardigrascharityball.com.