Fifty years ago, the late Harriet Gilbert gathered some of her friends together and held a benefit for the Glynn County Unit of the American Cancer Society. That first event, a fashion show and luncheon at the Frederica Yacht Club with Gilbert as the chairwoman, became known, over the next 40 years, as “Harriet’s Fashion Show,” and grew into the Victory Gala, or “Cancer Ball,” as it’s known locally.

This year, to celebrate the Gala’s 50th anniversary, the Victory Board will host “A Golden Gala,” according to Victory Board Co-Chair, Katherine Swafford.

“This will be an intimate evening that will include silent and live auctions, a seated dinner, live music and dancing,” she said. “It will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26, at Sea Island’s Retreat Clubhouse.”

Unfortunately, tickets to the seated dinner have sold out, but there is still a way to attend. A new “strolling reception” ticket is available for $90 per person. It will include passed hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, access to the live and silent auctions, buffet dinner and dessert bar. To purchase tickets, visit www.acsvictoryboard.org.

The band will be Legacy Band from Savannah, and Swafford promises the live and silent auctions will be crowd-pleasers.

“There will be … a variety of items showcased – exciting vacation packages, artwork, one-of-a-kind sporting experiences …” she said.

According to a printed history from the Victory Board, the Victory Gala that raised the most funds for the American Cancer Society was held in 1988, when chairwomen Judi Morgan and Beth Varn held a seated dinner for 200 benefactors on the Friday evening prior to the ball, which was held that year at Etelechy II, the Sea Island home of the late John and Mary Portman. In 1986, the number of patrons reached its pinnacle when Elizabeth Pipe and the late Beth Jordan welcomed more than 700 guests into the Plantation Center Ballroom at Sea Island.

“As a result of the Gala’s success that year, the Glynn County Unit of the ACS raised the most money per capita of all 160 units of the ACS in Georgia. From 1986 to 1994, our Victory Gala won the coveted President’s Diamond Award for the best ACS event in the state,” reads the history.

The current Victory Board was formed in 1994, after the Glynn County ACS Unit sponsored a trip for a group of past chairwomen to Dallas, Texas, where the well-known Cattle Baron’s Ball, which also benefits the American Cancer Society, takes place. After the women returned to Glynn County, the past chairwomen formed the Victory Board with 26 charter members.

And, every chairwoman has lent her personality to the Gala. Exotic themes, including evenings built around exotic destinations such as Monte Carlo, Rome and Africa, have lent a cachet to the annual event.

Anne Whelchel chaired Gala in 1984 with co-chair Gayle Brown, and said the main event was the centerpiece of a weekend filled with meals and parties.

“We had a cocktail party on Friday night, then the ball on Saturday, and a champagne breakfast on Sunday,” Whelchel said. “People would come from out of town and stay for the weekend.”

Whelchel says other than Gala being for such an important cause, it was the only “dress-up” event held in the Golden Isles back in those days, with the exception of the Humane Society’s annual ball.

“It was a real community effort,” she said. “The Friday night cocktail party was always held in someone’s home, restaurants donated food and staff, and committee members would make hors d’oeuvres to make sure there was enough. Everyone got behind this cause.”

Champagne breakfasts were sometimes held at the former Blanche’s Courtyard.

In 1984, The Cloister hosted Gala, and Ed Cheshire designed the ‘Southern-style’ theme,” Whelchel said. In the fashion show days, before the ball was held, Belk headquarters, from Charlotte, N.C., presented a fashion show, and representatives from Tiffany & Co. also attended one year.

Whelchel says the list of past chairwomen is a veritable who’s who of Glynn County, but what really matters is the work the Victory Board has been able to accomplish over the years. Tradition, of course, is important. “Gala Girls” are active in the community, and hold positions on boards of many local organizations. And, many past chairwomen continue to serve. Women with 40 years of service to the Victory Board include Mary Bishop, Louise Bledsoe, Sandra Brunson, Anne Futch, Claudia Malone, and Nancy Wood; and those with 30 years of service include Dawn Hart, Rebecca Lott, Elizabeth Pipe, Jane Segerberg, Leslie Sutton, Ann Tuten, Ann Whelchel and Ellen Woodside. The second generations of these families are well-represented on the current Victory Board.

Whelchel says the accomplishments that have been made since Gilbert decided to hold a luncheon back in 1969, are monumental.

“There have been so many strides made because of the money raised by the Victory Board through this and related events,” she said. It’s a real tribute to Glynn County and the surrounding area.”

Of course, corporate support has always been an integral part of the Gala. Individual business owners and companies themselves have given generously of their time, merchandise and services. Many of those original corporate sponsors continue to this day.

The significance of Gala celebrating its golden anniversary this year is not lost on Swafford or the other Victory Board co-chairs.

“Helping chair the 50th anniversary celebration has been such a privilege for me,” Swafford said. “One of our goals for this celebration was to really dive into the history of our organization, and highlight the amazing work that has been done since its inception.”

That process, she said, has enabled the current co-chairs to connect with the organization’s charter members, past presidents and chairwomen.

“We have learned so much from them, and it’s been amazing to hear about their experiences as Victory Board members and former Gala chairs,” she said. “Our organization has evolved and grown so much over the last 50 years, and we are so appreciative of these women who laid the groundwork for what the Victory Board is today.”