A Moment with Tom Hartnagel
A sit down chat with Angels’ Arms Board Member and Fall Event Chair, Tom Hartnagel
A yearly auction has been an important part of Angels’ Arms history since the organization was founded 21 years ago. The momentum that turned that event from a simple auction into a magnificent gala came from one of Angels’ Arms Founding Fathers, Tom Hartnagel, who has chaired the auction for each of those 21 years. Let’s take a look back and discover how the auction grew and evolved into the “must attend” event of the season!
Learning about foster care
Tom’s wife Dana taught school with Bess Wilfong (founder and Executive Director of Angels’ Arms). After having dinner with Bess and several other couples “we learned more about foster care, and Bess’ vision to create an organization to assist foster parents and keep sibling groups together. That’s when we began to formulate a plan to make this vision a reality. I’m proud that Dana and I were founding board members. Dedication to the cause, for me and so many people, started as a commitment to help Bess achieve her vision. Now it’s blossomed into a passion for me, and so many other Board members, volunteers and community supporters.”
When he agreed to chair the first auction, Tom may not have known that this was a “permanent” assignment. This is the 21st Stepping Out for the Angels’ event, and Tom is proud to have served as chairman for all of these years.
“I have always enjoyed planning parties and social events—whether it was family gatherings, or as far back as social chairman for my fraternity in the early ’90s. Couple that with doing something that can generate dollars for a good cause, and it’s a win-win. It’s been a way to build strong friendships with many volunteers and donors.”
It started with a bike
Tom was actually a newcomer to the auction scene. “I had never planned an auction before, in fact, the first event was actually a fashion show, with the help of my wife, and then fellow board member, Colleen Stein. We hosted this at Greenbriar Country Club, with 85 guests in attendance. It was a nice dinner, followed by a fashion show. Someone contributed a bicycle, and at the close of the evening, I stood up to auction it off.” He raised $600 for that mountain bike—and the rest is history.
“The next year we held a fashion show, but we had a room where we hosted cocktails with about 25 baskets. The event has blossomed quite a bit since then, as we now have almost 200 items in our silent auction, and a substantial selection of live auction items.”
The auction goal: creating awareness
“The goal of the first auction was simply to create mindshare—share our vision and tell a story. We worked with local TV personality Katie Jamboretz, who acted as emcee. Later, Katie created a compelling video that was used to show potential donors what Angels’ Arms was all about.”
Unique themes, unique venues
Each year brings a new theme or concept—and with that comes new creative ideas to execute. Whether it was a massive blow-up planet earth at America’s Center, eye-catching jelly fish at Kemp Auto Museum, or French, Asian, or Italian flare and cuisine—each gala presented something fun and new. “We have hosted the event at five different venues, each with special experiences and fun times. The funniest, most poignant moments typically happen on the stage—whether it’s an exchange with Katie Jamboretz, Al Hrabosky, Dan McLaughlin, Kelly Jackson, or Heidi Glaus. There is bound to be a funny exchange with a foster child selling his or her artwork, or the auctioneer (Tom)—losing track of the live auction current bid.”
While many aspects of the gala remain the same, the importance and growth of sponsors have really propelled the gala forward. “Our loyal sponsors who have supported us for years, as well as new sponsors who are just learning about Angels’ Arms – these are the secret sauce to any event. You can have the most delicious dinner, an abundance of cocktails, and the perfect venue, but it’s the sponsorships and fund-a-need donations that truly fuel the engine and provide the support needed to keep our homes and families thriving.”
Tom’s goal now is to maintain a fun-filled, innovative event, that ultimately generates tremendous revenue for the Angels’ Arms mission. “What might have been a successful traditional dinner auction for two decades, might not be the perfect equation for the future. We don’t want things to be stale, so we evaluate after the event takes place.” Because of Covid, “the virtual event of 2020 actually created a unique way to view fundraising. Time will tell what the future holds for our donors and supporters.”
A Special Recipe – love for the mission
“We have an amazing group of supporters who truly understand the mission of our organization. Many attendees come back year after year, evangelizing the unique story of Angels’ Arms. That keeps this event alive and thriving. We have a special recipe for delivering a fun-filled event, along with a room full of individuals who care greatly for their community. In some way, everyone has a connection to the board and other volunteers – and most importantly, they have caring hearts to support the foster parents and the children in their care.”
And most importantly for Stepping Out for the Angels, we have Tom Hartnagel – master auctioneer and chair of our Gala, whose heart if all about the kids!