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Children's charities to gain millions from gala event

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Correction: Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.

Fun, frivolity, a marriage proposal and millions raised for kids highlighted the 2017 Charity Preview at the North American International Auto Show.

Barb Farrah, state Rep. Scott Dianda and state Sen. Rebekah Warren arrive at Cobo Center for the Charity Preview gala at the North American International Auto Show.

The event featured more than 13,000 ticket sales at $400 a pop and raised $5.2 million for children’s charities. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was duly impressed.

“I used to work with Children’s Hospital,” he said, “and I know what that money means to charities in this town. It changes lives.”

Since 1976, Charity Preview, which bills itself as the largest-annual, single-night fundraiser in the world, has raised over $106 million. Of that, $41 million was generated in just the past 10 years.

“This is a great night for Detroit — it really is,” said Sam Slaughter, 2017 NAIAS chairman and principal of Sellers Buick GMC. “It’s partly about the show, it’s partly about our city, but it’s really about raising money for charity.”

The glitterati in their gowns and tuxes had a chilly time of it, though. By early evening, it was just 24 degrees out.

Slaughter laughed, adding philosophically, “That’s par for the course for Charity Preview.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig enjoyed looking at the Cadillacs and the Chevys. “I’m all about General Motors projects.”

He said the Charity Preview is for a good cause and it represents Detroit. “I’m just excited to be a part of it one more year. I love it. Go Detroit, one Detroit.”

Despite the weather, Whitmore Lake resident Nicole Foco, 34 — an engineer at Fiat-Chrysler — wore a white see-thru, sparkly dress she found online from DHgate. At $69, she paid more to have it altered.

Party continued at suave and stylish Detroit Glamour

“I liked it because it’s all covered, but a little risqué,” she said, deftly balancing a glass of water. (Foco was pacing herself, she said, for a “long, fun night.”)

Melissa Sheppard, wife of State Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Monroe County), stood out among the ball gowns, which leaned mostly black with the occasional statement in red, in a striking blue ruffled dress.

She found it in an Ohio boutique a few years ago, she said, fell in love, but ultimately didn’t buy it. On Christmas morning, she opened up a box from her husband and there it was inside.

“I did well. Didn’t I?” Sheppard laughed.

An enthusiastic Mark Hackel, Macomb County executive, was walking the floor with his wife, Tracie. “Every year we see more excitement,” he said.

And why not? There’s a lot to be excited about. Hackel noted that over the past seven years, Macomb County has seen “$7.4 billion worth of investment from Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford.”

Turning to a subject closer at hand, Tracie Hackel said she found her fetching, mermaid-style gown at a New Baltimore boutique.

“It has a little bit of Champagne and ‘gallant grey,’ ” she said, referring to the official 2017 Preview color picked by Axalta Coating Systems. Her choice wasn’t intentional, she said, but “it worked out really well.”

Saunteel Jenkins, CEO of The Heat and Warmth Fund, and husband Carl Bentley, an executive with Strategic Staffing Solutions, made a sharp-looking couple with her orange gown, and his orange bowtie.

“We’re big fans of fast cars,” Bentley said. “The Alfa Romeo looks real good,” he said, adding, “but loving the Mustang, too.”

Matching colors seemed to be all the rage. Newly married Kimberly and Edgar Vann III wore matching blue-and-grey outfits at the last two Previews, but “this year, we wanted to try something different,” Edgar said.

So the Detroiters went with a black-and-cranberry scheme. He found his cranberry suit on Groupon. She got her cranberry dress at Windsor and black beaded necklace at Rainbow.

Both estimate they spent under $100 — until you factor in both of their $1,000 Louis Vuitton shoes.

“We try to look great and not spend a lot of money. The problem,” Kimberly said, “is the shoes.”

Romantics everywhere will be happy to learn that this year’s Charity Preview resulted in at least one engagement, when Francis Fiel asked longtime girlfriend Emma Stack to marry him in front of a gleaming Audi RS7.

Under bright lights with revelers around, a surprised and overwhelmed Stack accepted.

“I want to spend forever with her,” Fiel said.

In addition to the Preview’s famously mediocre Champagne, this year at the Chevrolet display you could also get line up to have your picture taken in Tigers or Red Wings regalia.

Shot against a green screen, the images were instantly turned into your own personal trading cards.

The high point of the evening for most, however, was bound to be the 9 p.m. performance by rock-and-roll royalty, the Beach Boys.

Charities benefiting from the Preview are: Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Boys Hope Girls Hope Detroit, Children’s Center, Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation, Detroit Area Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund, Detroit PAL, Judson Center, and March of Dimes Metro Detroit.

Detroit News staffers Adam Graham, Stephanie Steinberg, Melody Baetens and Felecia D. Henderson contributed to this report.

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