There probably aren’t records available on the subject, but it is hard to imagine that any non-profit event in local history ever topped Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton on the beach. H. Wayne Huizenga’s being honored as “Man of the Centennial” by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society has to be a first in several respects.
For starters, who ever heard of an event being sold out without even sending invitations? When Dr. Harry Moon told fellow trustees of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society in mid-summer that Huizenga had agreed to be the honoree at the annual Founders Dinner (this year kicking off the city’s 100th anniversary celebration), the sponsorship response was so immediate that all of the 44 original tables were gone within weeks. So strong was the demand, that a decision was made to eliminate the dance floor to add an additional six tables. And as the night approached, Gale Butler at Auto Nation, who coordinated the evening, was bombarded with requests for tickets. At one point, despite the added tables, she had a waiting list of 100 names. Normally, organizations who buy tables have some open seats, but not in this case.
Auto Nation President Mike Jackson wasn’t kidding when he opened the program by saying that despite competition from the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and the Miami Heat’s opening home game, this was the toughest ticket in town. People who usually are regarded as desirable guests at any function were wondering why they never got invitations and were beseeching friends to find an extra seat or two. The lineup of companies supporting the dinner was the power of South Florida, and the attendees were a “Who’s Who” of the area’s business, political and sports leaders.
The evening lived up to billing. Jackson did an excellent job as master of ceremonies, the entertainment was outstanding and unexpected (Huizenga’s Irish friend, John McWinney, flew across the pond for a surprise appearance, and the non-professional singer belted out several songs) and Jim O’Connor, Steve Berrard, George Johnson and Dan Marino all gave excellent and amusing tributes to the man they have worked with in various capacities.
The best news was the bottom line. Jackson said the proceeds from the dinner were more than $600,000, and with much of the expenses picked up by contributing organizations, the benefit to the Historical Society is likely a record setter as well. In past years the organization was pleased to realize $80,000 from the night that always has a high profile honoree.
The “Man of the Centennial” may just have given Fort Lauderdale the dinner of the centennial.