The 17th Annual Flint Hills Technical College benefit gala, “A Night of Inspiration,” Friday evening at White Auditorium, drew more than 350 guests and raised more than $95,000 for student scholarships.

This year’s presenting sponsor was VEKTEK, a longtime supporter of FHTC, which counts many FHTC alumni among its employees.

The evening began with appetizers followed by a buffet dinner prepared and served by the FHTC Hospitality and Culinary Arts Program. The creative menu included items such as smoked salmon quiche with creme fraiche and lemon slaw, a pickled watermelon salad, baked cavatappi, Breasola smoked prime rib and Chai carrot cake.

Prior to the event, FHTC Vice President of Advancement Mike Crouch told The Emporia Gazette that catering the gala would be “a tremendous learning opportunity” for FHTC students.

“Our students are so talented and we know the chefs do such a great job of leading them through that,” Crouch said. “It’s truly a first-class setup, and I think that’s one of the things that sets us apart from other events. Nobody else has the ability to put on a food spread like we do.”

Guests enjoyed the open bars, sponsored by APAC and Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, and took photos in the photo booth sponsored by PrairieLand Partners. The Emporia Proud Box, a crate of items worth more than $225 donated by area merchants was available to purchase for just $50.

Silent auction items lined the halls, inviting bids on items as varied as Evora Wheeler’s famous banana cream pie, a United States flag flown over the U.S. Capitol donated by Senator Jerry Moran, a lesson in glass blowing from More Than Lemons and an Uuni portable wood fire oven donated by Detroit Diesel. In all, more than 100 lots were open for bidding.

After dinner service was cleared, FHTC President Dean Hollenbeck presented this year’s Distinguished Alumni award to Ben Schears. After struggling in high school, Schears began taking FHTC classes and discovered he was a hands-on learner. He graduated in 1999 from what is now the Industrial Engineering Technology program and went on to teach at Cowley College for 13 years. Since 2016, Schears has served as president of Northwest Technical College.

“FHTC was a transformational opportunity,” Schears said in accepting the award. “Thank you to the community for supporting students. I don’t know if you realize what an impact you have just by being here tonight.”

A live auction followed with big ticket items such as tickets to Clint Bowyer’s private box at the Kansas Speedway, luxury vacations, the opportunity to serve as a judge at FHTC’s culinary competition “The Cut” and a steak dinner with President and Mrs. Hollenbeck.

The cutest item by far was a rat terrier puppy who was escorted through the crowd by FHTC student Kasey Besack. The puppy was donated by B&S Kennels along with food, a dog bed and other supplies courtesy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, East Emporia Veterinary Clinic and Petsense.

Following dinner and the auctions, the floor was cleared for dancing with music provided by Fountain City 45’s, a rock band from Eastern Kansas. Live music was presented by Simmons Pet Food.

All proceeds from the evening go toward the FHTC scholarship fund, helping students with tuition and expenses. Crouch thanked those who attended as well as sponsors and donors for their continued support of FHTC and the students.

“We’re blessed with this community who came out and showed their support,” Crouch said. “It really makes an impact.”

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