Hats off to Kentucky Derby with Hat-i-tude party: Event benefits local literacy council

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

There were multiple winners during this year’s 150th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

Not only did Mystik Dan win the actual race, but the Rowan County Literacy Council came out a winner as it benefited from the fifth annual Kentucky Derby with Hat-i-tude party, which was held in conjunction with the race.

The party is a ticketed event with additional drawings and raffles held with all the proceeds going directly to fund the literacy council’s youth and adult literacy programs, said Laurel Harry, executive director of the Rowan County Literacy Council.

In existence since 1976, the council provides free, one-on-one tutoring to adults and youth in Rowan County who need help improving their basic literacy or to those who speak other languages and are learning English, she said. Both GED and citizenship test preparations are also provided through the program.

Tutoring takes place most of the time in the library, Harry said, with flexible tutoring schedules offered.

“If you’re working full time, our tutoring is flexible. We meet them in the evenings, we meet them on Saturday. Our tutors are very flexible,” she said.

Lina Drinkard, one of the council’s tutors, shared how special the program is to her as she said “it’s not like anything else that I’ve volunteered for” as she spoke of a Ukrainian student she has been helping and has seen him “grow by leaps and bounds.” His English has become so good that he can now serve as a translator where he is employed. 

When Drinkard first began tutoring, they met twice a week, but that is down to one time a week.

“You watch lives change and you see people becoming really contributing members of the community,” she said. “You realize that you are really truly able to make a difference, and it’s more fun than anything I’ve ever done.”

The literacy council provides the materials the tutors need, their training and ongoing workshops, Drinkard said, and “all this happens because people donate.”

Her husband Steve also shared how incredibly important the program is for “both non-English speaking people and for people who speak English but can’t read it. It’s an amazing program.”

The first two years that the fundraising party was held were COVID impacted, said Harry, and they had a virtual hat contest since they could not meet in person. 

This year’s Kentucky Derby Hat-i-tude party, named because of the hats, is the third in-person event, with the previous two held at New Serum, and this is the first at the historic Hambley-Wallace House on Fulton Street.

With this being the 150th running of the derby, Harry said this is a monumental event.

Lane and Jonathan Wallace live in the home and were asked by family and friends who serve on the council if they would host the event to which they agreed.

“We’re just excited to do it,” said Jonathan.

“We are delighted to support the Rowan Literacy Council. It’s a meaningful cause to our entire family,” said Lane. 

Originally planned to be held in the carriage house, which is the old horse stables, Lane said they thought “what better place to host a derby party than at the horse stables.”  

However, the weather changed their plans and Jonathan said that once they realized the weather was going to be an issue, they made the change to move it inside the house.

He said they had “an excellent team of volunteers to help out. There was a whole army of people putting this thing together.”

As guests arrived, they were greeted and directed to the house where they could enjoy food, enter into the various drawings and listen to the live music, which was provided by Minnow, a band consisting of Jonathan Wallace, Parker Cox and Charles Whaley, which was making their first appearance with all three members.

When the time for the race neared, a call went out to be sure and find a spot at one of the multiple televisions they had set up showing the derby after which a hat contest was held with winners announced for most creative and most stylish hats.

While those attending spoke about how fun the event was and being able to watch the race, and their coming for the music as factors that brought them to the event, each also shared about the importance of supporting the literacy council and helping the cause as to why they decided to come.

For some, this was their first time at the event. That was the case for Tina Kirby, an agent with Wallace Realty and her husband Ray Kirby who said they loved it, adding the fact that it was to support literacy.

Marcia Emerson said she had attended last year and had a wonderful time; therefore, she and her friends bought tickets again this year. 

“We had a delightful time, and it’s a great cause,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by others throughout the evening.

Nicky Black said she was honored to be there, and Will Goodnight said his wife is a volunteer for the Rowan Literacy Council so they are big supporters.

“We wanted to support this cause, it’s a great cause,” he said.

For Suzanne Wallace Casey, being there was full of memories as she said, “this is my home. I grew up here. I love this place and I love Salisbury, and the whole event is so special and a great fundraiser.”

Kristen and Andrew Hodges noted that they have also attended this event, and she stressed that the council does amazing things for the community.

“It’s an important reason to come,” she said.

And while it’s fun to dress up and watch the horses, she said, “it’s a nice way to be with the community and help the community at the same time.”