Scholarship soiree

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2008 - 10:53 AM

NFL football player Michael Strahan and Nicole Murphy at the Petters fundraiser.

Photo: Ali Haupt, Special to the Star Tribune

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It might have turned into the Penguin Suits vs. the Almighty Denim.

Last Saturday evening, well-dressed partygoers began trickling into the Marriott City Center for the third annual John T. Petters Foundation fundraiser, only to be met by a wall of Ultimate Fighting fans waiting for their night to begin nearby at Target Center.

Once the glitterati pushed past the throng, they saw a costumed matador in the hotel lobby reassuring them that they'd come to the right place. The classy Barcelona-themed ballroom was decorated with enormous silk roses, while an acoustic guitarist played flamenco, creating a comfortable environment in which to raise funds for study-abroad scholarships for cash-strapped students. The foundation is named for John T. Petters, the world-traveling son of Petters Group founder and CEO Tom Petters. John was killed in Florence, Italy, in 2004 at age 21.

Among the early arrivers were Starkey Laboratories CEO Bill Austin and his wife, Tani, who was wearing a lovely ivory-colored dress embroidered with flowers and beads. Where'd she get it? She leaned in and whispered: "It's actually four years old."

Other VIP attendees included real estate mogul Ralph Burnet and his wife, Peggy. Mary Jeffries, an executive with Petters and Polaroid, was accompanied by her husband, John, and daughter Rachel.

Comedian Kevin Nealon ("Weeds" co-star and a "Saturday Night Live" alum) was the event's marquee entertainer. He warmed up by ably rehearsing a cocktail-hour scene alongside his buddy, actor Christopher McDonald ("Happy Gilmore").

Footballer Michael Strahan and his date, Nicole Murphy (ex-wife of Eddie), were fashionably late. When they finally arrived, just minutes before dinnertime, Petters employees whisked them into a private room to pose for pictures. Strahan generously lent his gap-toothed grin to the 20-minute ordeal. Meanwhile, there was a swell of whispers concerning Murphy's dress: a painstakingly structured number by Los Angeles designer JMary featuring a finely crocheted top layer and transparent underlay which didn't leave a lot to the imagination.

"It's not very Minnesotan," remarked one attendee.

Christy DeSmith is a Minneapolis writer.

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