During a rough year for Starkey Hearing Technologies, founder Bill Austin told locals gathered outside the RiverCentre in St. Paul that Sunday’s black-tie gala was about “focusing on the good.”
In past years, the annual fundraiser for the Starkey Hearing Foundation attracted political heavy-hitters, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They stayed home this year, as former Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka faces investigations by both the FBI and IRS and jousts with Austin in court. The company also is wading through several lawsuits from former employees.
There were some well-known performers and personalities, however, including two Apollo astronauts, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Jay Leno, Jennifer Garner and two-thirds of rock supergroup Hollywood Vampires, Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp.
The 16th Starkey Gala honored Garner for her work with Save the Children and Minneapolis-based Paula F. Goldberg for her work as executive director and co-founder of PACER. The Eden Prairie-based hearing-aid company’s gala was expected to raise $9 million to outfit children in poorer countries with free hearing aids.
Charles Duke, who admitted that he did not protect his ears as a fighter pilot and Apollo 16 astronaut, said the aid revolutionized his relationship with his wife.
Buzz Aldrin, outfitted in his Presidential Medal of Freedom, also received new hearing aids from Starkey this week.
U.S. paralympic gold medalist and local Mallory Weggemann paused from her Rio Olympics training to attend the gala.
Actor Frankie Muniz, sporting some Frank Sinatra-themed socks, endorsed a pending “Malcolm in the Middle” reboot.
In the midst of the excitement, Comedian and actor Cedric the Entertainer urged the nation to calm down and communicate following the fatal Baton Rouge police shooting earlier that morning.
“You can feel a connection with everybody, but it’s also so polarizing,” Cedric said.
Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield had a happy homecoming, welcoming even the rain — but not the state of Twin Cities’ race relations — after leaving Minnesota for Los Angeles.
“I hope none of this tears St. Paul apart. It’s a good place,” Winfield said. “I’m proud to be from here.”
Rohan Marley, who will work with Starkey Foundation in Jamaica, said he is preaching the same message as his father, Bob, did decades before: “We are all one.”
“Everything is so magnified because it’s happened for so long,” Marley said. Whereas Jay Leno said he thinks the future looks good.
Jennifer Garner appeared gracious but reserved, forgoing questions and hugs near the end of the two-hour red carpet. Cooper and Depp followed, sans Joe Perry, after he collapsed during the trio’s show in Coney Island, New York.
And while Depp didn’t stop for questions, his metal-capped teeth and outfit choices — plaid scarves, a coin chain belt, a Western embroidered shirt and Doc Martens — spoke loud enough for everyone.