More than 260 people turned out for the event, known as the Home of Hope's Grand Celebration, the largest Home of Hope banquet to date.

GROVE – Dual celebrations were the focus of the first banquet on Saturday, June 3, at the newly built Shangri-La Resort and Conference Center on Monkey Island.

As workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on the multi-million dollar resurrected resort for its first event, five Oklahoma governors, including current governor Gov. Mary Fallin, showed up for a party designed to honor the Home of Hope and former Gov. George Nigh's 90th birthday.

More than 260 people turned out for the event, known as the Home of Hope’s Grand Celebration, the largest Home of Hope banquet to date.

In addition to Fallin and her husband, Wade, other former governors and their spouses in attendance included George and Donna Nigh, David and Rhonda Walters, Frank and Cathy Keating, and Brad and Kim Henry.

Former Gov. David Boren, who was unable to attend, sent a video message which included congratulations to the Home of Hope and well wishes to George Nigh.

“We have been watching, we have been holding our breath, and it is beautiful,” said Home of Hope Chief Executive Officer Ralph Richardson, as he gazed around the ballroom. "[This] is just a great night."

The fundraising event included dinner, a silent auction and a live auction conducted by J.B. Robison, who has been leading the auction for Home of Hope since the first event 35 years ago.

In all, the event raised more than $150,000 - surpassing the goal set by organizers - however final tabulations were still taking place as of presstime.

Celebrating Gov. Nigh

The evening also honored Nigh, who will turn 90 on Friday, June 9.

Nigh, who served 32 years in public office, was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives as its youngest member at 23. He hosted the 1982 National Governors’ Conference at Shangri-La.

Richardson said Nigh's wife Donna, is known for her commitment to Oklahomans with special needs and improving the quality of life for those with developmental disabilities.

She championed the establishment of group homes for the developmentally disabled. The Donna Nigh Foundation, which she chairs, is the first statewide foundation for those with developmental disabilities.

During the evening, each of the former governors took a few minutes to talk, with most discussing the advances in assistance for developmentally disabled and their part in that effort during their time in Oklahoma government.

While funny stories abounded about Nigh, the highlight was the champagne toast to Nigh led by Barbara Townsend followed by Shangri-La staff wheeling in an Oklahoma shaped birthday cake. Each place setting also included a chocolate cake garnished with a white chocolate version of Governor Nigh's famous white cowboy hat, specially made for this event.

Honoring service, courage

During the evening, Fallin presented the Hope and Courage Award to Debbie Still.

Still has cerebral palsy and a number of other health issues and challenges but as Fallin told the audience in her presentation, “these are the things [Still] has, they are not who she is.”

Still has worked as a receptionist, an office worker, at one of the Home of Hope’s Thrift Stores, and at a variety of other jobs during her time with the organization. She was presented the award for her courage in facing every challenge, her joyfulness in the face of struggles and her relentless positive attitude and desire to help others.

The Volunteers of the Year award was presented to Cheryl and Gary Ford for their role in helping Home of Hope residents as they serve as Secret Santa to 21 individuals during the Christmas season.

“It is an incredible blessing to be part of something in life, to get to have a job that can do something that makes a difference for other people,” Richardson said at the conclusion of the program. “We get to do what we do at Home of Hope and get together and touch lives and be present in the lives of people that in our society all too often are told they have nothing to look forward to.”

Looking ahead

Richardson told those gathered Home of Hope officials are in discussion with officials with the Delaware County Friendship Homes, about that entity becoming a subsidiary of Home of Hope.

He said that entity's board of directors approached Home of Hope officials about taking over the organization's administrative duties, to ensure a continuation of services.

When completed, Richardson said the Friendship Home's current level of service to residents in the county will remain the same, and the entity would remain known as Delaware County Friendship Home.

Richardson said he expects the final discussions concerning the agreement to take place later this month, with more details available to the public at that time.

About Home of Hope

Home of Hope provides residential, vocational and educational service to more than 200 individuals with more than 490 full- and part-time employees, 150 of whom have disabilities.

Headquartered in Vinita, Home of Hope operates in Vinita, Pryor, Miami and Claremore. The organization also runs the Centsible Spending store in Miami. Home of Hope began almost 50 years ago under the direction of Jane Hartley, Laura Cupp-Neely and Ruth Smith. Home of Hope's mission is "promoting choices, independence and a meaningful way of life."