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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2005

Benefit raises funds for Mom's House

Like the classic film, Miracle on 34th Street, "A Miracle on Franklin Street" really was something special Saturday at the Stranahan Great Hall.

Nearly 500 guests gathered to benefit Mom's House, a support system for low-income student-parents and their children located on Franklin Street. Since it opened in 1993 with founder Peg Luksik, more than 50 Mom's House moms have graduated from area high schools and colleges. In return for babysitting service, the student-parents are responsible for contributing two hours of work to the house, attending weekly parenting classes, and maintaining passing grades as full-time students.

The house is completely funded by community support and private grants. That's where the event Saturday night comes into play. The event raised nearly $90,000, according to executive director Cynthia Ford, who said donations are still coming in.

Kay Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson, left, named Mother of the Year, joins event chairmen Duke and Martha Wheeler.
Kay Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson, left, named Mother of the Year, joins event chairmen Duke and Martha Wheeler.
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Tasty hors d'oeuvres and beverages were served in the lobby as guests perused the display of auction items to be sold live later in evening. The place was decorated to be a step back in time to the 1950s, with vintage movie posters that included Marilyn Monroe. Then guests retired to their tables for the program with mistress of ceremonies Chrys Peterson. Bishop Robert Donnelly gave the invocation, then it was time for a buffet by Michael's Gourmet Catering and homemade pie by Schmucker's.

Board president Bill Sheehan, on stage with vice president Barbara Tartaglia, said the house doesn't just provide day care, it instills self-esteem in each student-mom. Event chairmen Duke and Martha Wheeler agreed as Mrs. Wheeler exclaimed, "We're behind the moms all the way!"

Several individuals were recognized for helping to implement the vision and mission of Mom's House. Jim Brazeau was presented with the outstanding visionary award. Roberta Handel was honored as the outstanding volunteer. First Energy, represented by Jim Murray, was honored for outstanding corporate support. Tom Waniewski, who did an outstanding video for Mom's House, was recognized as the outstanding philanthropist of the year. Past Mom of the Year recipients have included Gladys Knight, Chrys Peterson, Kathy Holmes, Doris and Larry Whatley, Patty Hansen, and Tom Monaghan.

And the Mother of the Year is Kaye Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson, who was Miss America 1988 and is now a nurse and advocate for Hospice. Mrs. Wilson, a mother of three, said being Miss America doesn't come close to the awards that come with motherhood.

Mrs. Wilson, with her husband, Chuck, and family in the audience, compared motherhood to being on a roller coaster. "There are ups and downs and you have to hold on tight," she said. She ended by saying to her mom in the audience, "Mom, this award is a reflection of you!"

Steve Mickus, president and CEO of Mercy Health Partners, and Sister Dorothy Thum, vice president, presented a special gift in honor of Mrs. Wilson, who worked at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center when she became Miss America. The first installment of a $75,000 gift was presented in Mrs. Wilson's name for Mom's House.

Awards finished, it was down to the business of money: a quick live auction by Jeff Keim.

Among the diverse crowd who paid $100 each to attend were honorary chairmen, Sister June Ketterer, Ruth Lewandowski, and George Baibak, plus Ann Galloway, Sister Ann Francis Klimkowski, Dick and Kathy Faist, Lloyd and Sharon Mahaffey, Jim and Nancy Smythe, Jim and Pat Appold, Geoff and Mary Lyden, Dan and Stephanie Murtagh, new Toledoans Auvin and Darlene Parish, Patrick Norton, Calvin and Vicky Lawshe, Marty and Kathy Holmes, Dwayne and Thelma Clark, Pat and Maureen Kenny, Julia and Richard Trickey, Jettie and Joe Sansbury, Edna and Tyronne Robertson, and founder Peg Luksik.

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