The Social Book 2024 Houston Treasures Awards Gala
“An Emerald Evening” celebrating Twenty Years of Houston Treasures
The Social Book, Houston’s premier calendar of charitable events, resource guide, and go-to compendium of all things social, awarded its 2024 “Houston Treasures” honorees at its twentieth annual gala dinner, hosted by Omni Houston Hotel. This beautiful hotel (magnificently decorated for the holidays) showcased its elegant ballroom, courteous staff and renowned four-star cuisine for our city’s movers and shakers at a four-course celebratory seated dinner. The Social Book’s Scott Evans (publisher), Jeff Henry (editor), and Sami Shbeeb, along with “Houston Treasures” creator Warner Roberts and Omni Houston Hotel’s Director of Sales & Marketing Blanche C. Morris, Director of Special Events Georgia Graugnard and Presenting Sponsor TERRAFORM WEALTH, LLC, welcomed guests to the induction of the twentieth class of honorees.
The Social Book is in its 28th year of publication and its “Houston Treasures” award—created by Warner Roberts in 2004—honors individuals and couples in the fields of philanthropy, volunteerism, medicine, arts, business, sports, politics and media. Honoree photos and biographies grace the calendar tab pages of January through December in The Social Book. Warner Roberts recounted the awards’ history and continuing legacy of commemorating those whose contributions to the Houston community have been extraordinary—earning them this distinct honor. Chosen by a select committee of The Social Book, the 2024 honorees are: J.P. Bryan (founder of Bryan Museum in Galveston Orphan’s Home), Cheryl Byington (volunteer and philanthropist), Cissy Segall Davis (recently retired CEO of Miller Outdoor Theater), Gaynell Drexler (volunteer and philanthropist), “C.C.” and “Duke” Ensell (philanthropists), David Leebron and Y. Ping Sun (former head and First Lady of Rice University), Kelley and Steve Lubanko (volunteers and philanthropists), Kara and Lance McCullers, Jr. (Houston Astros pitcher and philanthropists for many animal causes through their foundation), Dr. Laura Murillo (head of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce), Melissa Williams Murphy (founder of iWrite.org), Susan and Michael Plank (she: founder of DecMyRoom; he: businessman; owner of the Plank Companies and Speedshore; philanthropists) and Leigh and Reggie Smith (volunteers and philanthropists).
260 guests were treated to a Champagne Madame Zéro reception, followed by a four-course seated dinner created by Omni Houston Hotel’s Executive Chef Blake Scott with renowned estate wines by Jordan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Jordan Chardonnay. Champagne Madame Zéro, new on the Houston scene, brought their signature French cart to the festivities and served their imported bubbly to excited guests. Omni Houston Hotel, with Director of Special Events Georgia Graugnard and Director of Catering Gary Baumann and their teams, executed the entire evening flawlessly (and on schedule).
Guests celebrated the evening’s theme, “An Emerald Evening,”—by recognizing the associated jewel for the twentieth anniversary. The Attendees brought toys for the children at The Mission of Yahweh, a homeless shelter for women and children. The palette of emerald green, gold and white was enhanced by the individual décor teams at 360AV Design, Flowers by Nino, Kirksey Gregg Productions, and EB, Inc.
360AV Design, owned by Jason Fajkus, delightedly embraced his delegated task of designing the audio-visual and lighting displays at this event, where they unveiled large new L-E-D high-definition screens, which were so realistic that they were reminiscent of the screens at any major Houston sporting arena. Five thin vertical L-E-D screens of varying heights and placed inches apart, were positioned in the middle of the stage and featured floating emeralds. The large digital screens on each side of the stage displayed all the honorees over the last 19 years, as well as those whom we’ve lost since its inception (75 past Treasures), as well as the portraits of the new class of honorees and their tribute videos from past honorees. The gala’s emerald theme was highlighted on the walls around the room, putting everyone in a festive holiday spirit.
EB, Inc. covered the ballroom tables in emerald green and white with gold-speckled tablecloths. Bar high tables in the pre-function area were decorated with white tablecloths covered by a sheer gold leaf overlay.
Flowers by Nino created beautiful all-white floral displays of unique and rare white roses and Casablanca lilies with green hydrangeas and dendrobium orchids. The flowers were gathered from five different countries. In the pre-function, Nino created a stunning orchid display of a cross and heart combination made from phalaenopsis and dendrobium orchids.
Kirksey Gregg Productions provided emerald-green drapes at the stage surround and wintery décor touches throughout the ballroom and reception areas.
The quartet from Richard Brown Music entertained with lively pop standards and holiday tunes to the enormous delight of the guests.
Elsie Smith Designs crafted the visually beautiful “An Emerald Evening” invitation and evening program.
Warner Roberts began the dinner program by welcoming guests to the 20th annual dinner. She introduced Reverend Mary Gracely, who gave the evening’s invocation. Warner then asked Omni Houston Hotel’s Director of Sales & Marketing, Blanche C. Morris, to speak about the hotel’s long history of serving guests in Houston and the return of excitement to events in Houston. Jordan Wines introduced to The Social Book through wine writer Denman Moody, were flown in from Napa Valley to introduce their celebrated estate wines to the crowd.
Warner Roberts introduced The Social Book’s 4th class of Legendary Houston Treasures by recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of Mary & Tony Gracely, Joan Schnitzer and Betty & Jess Tutor. The first class, consisting of Rose Cullen, Honorable Joanne King Herring, Margaret Alkek Williams and Lynn Wyatt, was previously unveiled for The Social Book 2020. Lilly Andress, Jeanie Kilroy and Linda McReynolds were unveiled in 2021. Sidney Faust, Cora Sue and the late Harry Mach and Annette & George Strake were unveiled in 2022.
“The Social Book Salute” was given to Jason Fajkus, The Social Book sponsor for over a decade and co-founder of Recovery Houston, an organization founded to help families in their time of need. Jason and his co-founders assisted families who were displaced from their homes during Hurricane Harvey by cleaning up damaged homes and rebuilding them. They were presented a “Points of Light” award from Presidents Obama, Bush 41, Bush 43, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Honorees were commemorated in video tributes (interspersed between dinner courses) by previous “Houston Treasures” award recipients, generously filmed and produced by Chris Swanson and Firefox Video. As tributes were shown and brief live presentations announced, honorees were brought to the stage to accept their awards, giving impassioned gratitude for the community and inclusion in the illustrious company of past and present honorees. Their timeless portraits by Gittings were shown on-screen.
The evening’s fare was a feast for the eyes. Once seated, guests were served Cream of Asparagus Soup en Crôute. Guests cracked the pastry top to find steaming hot soup beneath; the second course was a tower of romaine lettuce encompassed by long cucumber strips. The salad resembled a Christmas tree. The entrée course stole the show with a dual filet mignon and salmon presentation. Silky mashed potatoes and a crunchy green bean bundle joined them on the plate. Cake artist Gina Gutierrez from Cakes by Gina did not disappoint with her dual dessert course. She showcased Amaretto White Cake with Raspberry filling and Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Strawberry Filling.
Ed McMahon spoke about honoree J.P. Bryan; Beth Wolff presented Cheryl Byington; Ernie Manouse introduced Cissy Segall Davis; Merele Yarborough introduced Gaynell Drexler; Elsie Eckert presented C.C. & Duke Ensell; Susan Boggio welcomed David Leebron & Y. Ping Sun; Phoebe Tudor (via video; Alicia Smith on stage) introduced Kelley & Steve Lubanko; Tena Faust and Tama Lundquist presented Kara & Lance McCullers, Jr.; Laura Ward (via video; Beth Wolff on stage) spoke about Dr. Laura Murillo; Deborah Duncan (via video; Lara Bell on stage) spoke about Melissa Williams Murphy; Joanna Marks helped induct Susan & Michael Plank; Phoebe Tudor (via video; Alicia Smith on stage) installed Leigh & Reggie Smith.
“Houston Treasures” were presented with a treasure trove of gifts from The Social Book, Omni Houston Hotel, Saks Fifth Avenue, Dior, Flowers by Nino, Sloan/Hall, Logic Watches, Elizabeth Purpich, Eau Tour/LFM/Local Foods, Berg Hospitality, Roma Ristorante, Steak 48, The House of Harry Winston, Wright Pawn & Jewelry, Elsie Smith Designs, Coolin’ Curve, Gentle Ben Vodka, More Than You Can Imagine, Warner Roberts, and Denman Moody, among others. The 22-item Treasure Chest for each honoree was valued at $5,500!
Former “Houston Treasures” honorees in attendance (in addition to the aforementioned) were: Margaret Alkek Williams, David & Tara Wuthrich, Honorable Joanne King Herring, Lynn Wyatt, Linda McReynolds, Rose Cullen, Lilly Andress, Richard Flowers, Molly & Jim Crownover, Bucky Allshouse, Brigitte Kalai, Betty Hrncir, Trini Mendenhall, Fran Fauntleroy, Tyson Faust, Diane Gendel, Ashley & Dr. Peggy Smith, Frann Lichtenstein, Frank Billingsley, Leisa Holland-Nelson Bowman, Nino Shbeeb, Pamela Lockard, Monica Hartland, Carol Sawyer, Andy Delery, Mary Ann McKeithan, Judi McGee, Paul-David Van Atta, Hon. Bill King, Linda Lorelle, Bill Meek, Susan Soussan, Page Parkes, Rachel Regan, Gayla Gardner, Vicki West, Susan Hansen, Wallis & DeeDee Marsh, Mary Ann McKeithan, Helen Shaffer, Kappy Muenzer, Leila Gilbert, Liz Jameson, Danielle Ellis, Francie Willis, Jane Page Crump and Tim Miller
One interesting note- More past Houston Treasures were in the ballroom than at any other time in Houston Treasures Awards Dinner history! At least three or more from each year were in attendance!
In the Social Scene: Maria Moncada-Alaoui & Omar Alaoui, Ann & Jonathan Ayre, John Hrncir, Chris Kase, Cheryl Boblitt, Heidi Turney, Tony Gracely, Walter Aymen, Stephanie Shbeeb, David and Cassandra Chiaro, Kirk Kveton & Daniel Irion, Les Eckert, Cheryl King, Angel Rios, David McKeithan, Dr. Tom Sawyer, Harry Gendel, Kevin Gilliard, Roz Pactor, Denman & Marijo Moody, Saula Valente, Dick Hansen, Philip Royalty, Maggi Jones, Richard Hester, Christine Johnson, Ghada Ali, Ralph Burch, Heidi & Nick Rockecharlie, Hershey Grace, Mike Willis, Valerie Meek, Brent Milam, Hans Strohmer, Johnny “Bravo” & Alexis Holloway, Bill Stubbs & Kurt Grether, Shannon Hall, Henri Soussan, Jacquie Baly & James Craig, Laura Pennino, Wendy Phillips & Ron Corcoran, Cody Soutar, Vicki Rizzo, Roz & Alan Pactor, Jennifer Roosth, Tammie & Andy Johnson, Marilu Garza, Gregg Harrison, Shay Calhoun, Sharon Abercia & John Evans, Ray Rogers, Charity Yarborough & Walter Cox, Lou Gregory, Anna Dean, Matthew Massey, Nick Sanford, Jennifer Roosth, Brian Corless, Celene Buffington, Tonya Sansom