Luncheon chair Jeanne Johnson Phillips knew that to take the New Friends New Life 12th annual Wings Luncheon to great heights she would have to pull off something big. And did she ever: The guest speaker was Academy Award-winning actor, director and producer Kevin Costner.
A dream philanthropy team — honorary co-chairs Ruth Altshuler and former first lady Laura Bush, along with incoming board chair Nancy Ann Hunt — was tasked with promoting the event, and 1,600 people showed up to the Hyatt Regency. All told they raised $1.1 million, making this the most successful Wings Luncheon to date.
The day began with a VIP reception, where select guests listened to Costner’s pre-luncheon speech and snapped photos with the McFarland, USA star. Costner shared his thoughts on the movie industry, saying that films “can bring us together” and that “each of you feels like you know me from my movies.”
When the lunch bell rang, guests — including Ann Barbier, Nancy Best, Suzy Gekiere, Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Bobby Lyle, Christina Lynch, Sandy Nachman, Lisa Schlachter, Marianne Staubach, Sue Strauss, Gail and Gerald Turner, Lisa Troutt, and Yvonne Crum — took their seats, and the conversation turned serious for a minute. But the day’s cause was a serious one: New Friends New Life provides holistic services for sexually exploited girls, women and children, including access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support.
“These [sex trafficking] numbers are bothering people, the numbers bother me,” Costner said. “And I can tell they bother the room, so we’re kind of in this together. I have three daughters, and I have told my children every day since they were born they are special.
“But I never fail to end that sentence with that does not make you better than anybody.”
Costner, who was onstage with local movie producer Gary Cogill, discussed Costner’s films, the effect Giant had on him as a young boy and his love of cowboy movies. Costner also shared some personal and meaningful stories, including a day that began with his hanging out with Cal Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles, continued with golf with president George H.W. Bush and Andre Agassi, and ended with dinner at the White House. Costner said it was a great and very memorable day in his life.
When he is not working on films, Costner sings lead vocals and plays lead guitar in his band Modern West. The band was heading to a show in Oklahoma after the luncheon; they performed in Gruene Hall that following weekend.