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Published: Wednesday, 1/25/2006

Sylvania: Oprah's 'little black dress' to benefit Lathrop House

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A little black dress designed for Oprah Winfrey has made its way to Sylvania to be the featured auction item at a charity ball to benefit work on the Lathrop House.

The dress once sold for $13,000 at an auction to benefit a church-related social agency in North Carolina.

One of the officers of the local Friends of Lathrop House, Sue McHugh, was one of a small group who put together the winning bid for the dress when it was auctioned in North Carolina.

Another of the group was Kathy Ackerman, Mrs. McHugh's sister.

The dress was originally purchased by a woman from that area at an auction sponsored by Oprah Winfrey in October, 2004. The dress was created for Oprah, and the proceeds of that auction went to benefit the celebrity's Angel Network Foundation.

Proceeds from the sale in North Carolina helped a church-related facility known as Early's Place of Possibilities. It is a site begun by the Rev. Laura Early that provides shelter, after-school programs, and other services to people near Aulander, N.C.

Ms. McHugh said bidding was spirited in that auction and she hopes for the same at Little Black Dress Charity Ball on March 25 at The Pinnacle in Maumee.

The dress will be the centerpiece of an auction planned for the dance.

Ms. McHugh said she and other members of the Friends of Lathrop House have been in contact with some nonprofit groups that might bid on the item and then offer it again at an auction for their cause.

"It would be neat to see where the dress goes and what good it creates,'' she said.

The little black dress will be the last of 10 to 12 luxury items to be sold at the ball, she said.

Proceeds will go toward the second phase of work needed on the Lathrop House, in Sylvania's Harroun Community Park, before it can be partially opened for the public.

The restoration of the house, which was a stop along the Underground Railroad for slaves, and eventual education programs there are under the Metropolitan Park District of the Toledo Area.

Funding for the first phase of the restoration of the house has been secured, although work won't begin until next year.

The Friends of Lathrop House began as a small group of citizens opposed to the planned razing of the building on Sylvania's Main Street after it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.

It and the surrounding property were bought with the intention of expanding the property of St. Joseph's Church across Main Street.

After a lengthy and contentious dispute, the house was spared but moved slightly north and east to the edge of Harroun Community Park.

The metroparks received a federal grant of nearly $260,000 and $65,000 donated by the Friends organization will be used for exterior renovation and the replacement of a square, hand-hewn white oak beam that serves as the ground-level foundation of the mid-1800s house.

Phase two will involve mechanical work and the replacement of stones taken from the basement of the house prior to its being moved to its new location.

Relining the basement is an important aspect of the rehabilitation because it is there where escaping slaves reportedly rested while they traveled the Underground Railroad to Canada.

Mrs. McHugh said the estimate for the work scheduled in phase two is about $280,000.

Funds from the charity ball will be used as matching money for grants sought for that phase.



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