Before the darkness fell across the City of Avon Park on Saturday night, masked men and women made their way through the entrances of the Hotel Jacaranda.

Hotel employees saw no need to sound the alarm. The masked guests came to the hotel to give, not take.

Jamie and Billy Bateman

Jamie and Billy Bateman

The “Jac” was playing host to 150 revelers who had come to the South Florida State College Foundation’s 32nd Annual Spring Gala.

The yearly evening mix of silent and live auctions, drink, and food serves not only as the foundation’s main fundraising event, but a chance for old friends and college boosters to get together.

“This is my first gala and I am so excited to be here with all of you tonight,” said Jamie Bateman, the executive director of the SFSC Foundation, who is nearing the end of her first year heading up the organization after the retirement of its longtime director, Donald Appelquist.

“Because of your support throughout this past year, you have made a world of difference in the lives of our students in DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties,” Bateman said.

The SFSC Foundation serves as an auxiliary support organization for SFSC, managing the college’s endowment, awarding scholarships, and encouraging giving.

The evening started off with the masked and the unmasked crowding into the hotel’s arcade to bid on items put up for a silent auction. The items were donated by foundation board members, college supporters, and local businesses.

From left: Kris Rider with Ted and Lana Puckorius

From left: Kris Rider with Ted and Lana Puckorius

Before the guests savored the filet mignon, lobster, and cannelloni prepared by the college’s culinary arts students, SFSC president Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel thanked everyone for the support they offer the college’s students.

“Our students are incredibly important for us,” said Dr. Leitzel. “They give us the inspiration that makes our work at SFSC so special for us.”

The masquerade theme was conceived a year ago. “We had given thought to a masquerade-themed ball as we celebrated SFSC’s 50th anniversary at last year’s gala,” said Christy Crews, president of the SFSC Foundation board. “But we changed plans last year, so we decided to run with that idea in 2016.”

The auction, donations, and ticket sales raised $33,000 for SFSC’s Partnership Project, a major capital campaigned to bolster the endowment.

The gala was sponsored by Century Link, Florida Hospital Heartland, State Senator Denise Grimsley, State Rep. Cary Pigman, Cowpoke’s Watering Hole, Don and Ruth Geldart, and Terry and Filomena Atchley.

One note of sadness punctured the otherwise festive evening. SFSC said goodbye to two long-serving members of its family. Mollie Doctrow, the curator of the SFSC Museum of Florida Art and Culture, and Cathy Futral, art professor, both of whom received a round of applause from the guests.

“We decided to honor Mollie and Cathy for all the work they’ve done for the foundation over the years,” Bateman said. “They both have been tremendously supportive and great friends.”