Avila Now

February 10, 2021

Remote Steer Dinner & Auction Rallies Avila Community to Support Student Scholarships

Two men and women posing in front of purple backdrop

Avila University alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends raised more than $940,000 in student scholarship funds during the first-ever virtual Steer Dinner & Auction on Saturday, February 6.

In its 45th year, the annual celebration brings together the entire Avila community to celebrate the University and support student scholarships. Traditionally held in Downtown Kansas City, the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be held online. Despite the limitations of social distancing, the Avila community lived up to the event’s theme, ‘Better Together.’

“I want to thank everyone who has given up their time, talents and treasure (to support Avila),” Avila President Ron Slepitza, Ph.D., CSJA said during the event. “Some has been in the form of mentorship, some has been in the form of student scholarships and some has been in the form of emergency grants because as this pandemic has progressed, more and more students have been challenged to remain successful and stay in school.

Photo of backstage crew with stage in background
Emcee Shawna Pena-Downing ’12 rehearses in the background while members of Avila staff prepare to livestream the 2021 Steer Dinner & Auction on Saturday, February 6.

“Helping the dear neighbor without distinction is a core value of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and is truly at work here this evening. For all those contributions, I’m tremendously grateful and thankful for that because without it, none of what we do would be possible.”

A virtual happy hour led off the event, with attendees engaging in a lively chat with their classmates, current and former faculty and staff and many others. Alumna Shawna Pena-Downing ’12 served as emcee for the night’s program, introducing Avila luminaries such as honorary event chairs Greg Kratofil, Jr. and Kristin Kratofil, Ken and Marilyn Hager, S. Marie Joan Harris, Ph.D. and others.

“Greg and I are fortunate to have had many people in our lives who supported us when we were younger,” Kristin said. “With your help, we can provide opportunities for these students that can make a real difference in their lives.  A difference that will have a profound impact on their families and our community.”

In a prerecorded segment, Avila students Esperanza Ortiz and Brandon Cochran told their Avila stories and the obstacles they overcame to attend college. Ortiz, a sophomore nursing major from Aurora, Illinois, and Cochran, a Muskogee, Oklahoma native who is studying Criminal Justice with a Business minor both credited at least part of their success to the personal attention they have received at Avila. Exemplars of the Avila mission, both chose their respective majors in order to contribute to their communities and make them better places.

“Coming to Avila was scary because I didn’t know anybody,” Ortiz said during the segment. “Being from out of state, it was a new environment very different to me. Being able to meet new people and make great friends was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Proceeds from the evening will go toward student scholarships. These essential funds make it possible for future generations of Avila students to continue to receive the same impactful skills, knowledge and connections that remain the hallmark of an Avila education.

“Countless members of the Avila community have worked tirelessly (this past year) to provide continuity of learning to our students and University business operations,” Provost Sue King Willcox ’79, Ph.D. said during her remarks. “We have been able to meet this challenge and many more because of the support of wonderful alumni and friends. A scholarship you fund tonight will make the dream of a better life possible for a future Avila student.”

The Steer Dinner and Auction began in 1977 with the receipt of an American Royal Grand Champion steer to the University. S. Olive Louise Dallavis, CSJ, president emerita and founder of the Steer Dinner, used the gift to begin a fundraising effort that has raised more than $15 million in scholarship money.

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