Gala draws large crowd to ‘pay our respects’ to the pig (Updated)

story and photos by April Robertson
arobertson@thecitywire.com

Editor's note: Updated with official results.

Several Razorbacks donned their pearls and kissed a cute little swine to celebrate the existence of insulin and the efforts toward finding cures for diabetes Saturday evening.

The 11th Annual Kiss a Pig Gala sold out for the second year in a row, bringing 1,400 guests to the John Q. Hammons Center for an evening of good food and wine, two auctions (one live, one silent), a public discussion on the current state of services for diabetes patients and a concert by REO Speedwagon.

“This is a unique event,” said Neile Jones, KNWA Anchor and the evening’s emcee. “The pig is the original source of insulin and this event is a way to pay our respects...we recruit business managers to raise money for the ADA.”

Jon Williams, of 104.9 The X, echoed those sentiments.

“This event is about the pig’s fight (too),” he said. “Pigs were the first place where islet cells were discovered,” which he described as a life-saving discovery for tons of people. “(Insulin) is life support for 30 million Americans.

“The beautiful thing about this is that the candidates raise the money,” Williams said.

This year’s fundraisers, who double as the candidates to kiss the pig at the event, were:
• Justin Boeving, of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network;
• Dr. Randall Feezell, of New Directions Physician’s Weight Loss;
• Chuck Fehlig, owner of Blue Ocean Innovative Solutions;
• Karen Gray, VP of Marketing and Public Relations at Arvest Bank;
• Todd Hudgens, VP of Shopper Marketing at MARS Advertising;
• Meritt Hutchison, of the Clorox Company;
• Scott McCall of Walmart;
• Dr. Heath Stacey of the NWA Center for Plastic Surgery;
• Ben Thankachan, VP of Health & Wellness Operations & Compliance at Sam’s Club;
• Dax Weindorf, senior partner at Lighthouse Financial; and,
• Dustin Williams, owner of Precision Fitness.

“We’re trying to raise $500,000 and with the live and silent auctions, we are on par to succeed,” said Krista Coffee, Associate Director of the Northwest Arkansas American Diabetes Association.

Updated info from Krista Coffee, director of the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the American Diabetes Association: “Congrats to Chuck Fehlig who raised nearly $108,000 and Ben Thankachan, our large business winner who raised $122,566 (pig kissing photos attached)!! Our runners-up were Todd Hudgens at $27,122 for small and Scott McCall at $60,183.72 for large. Also, congrats to Karen Gray for winning our first ever High Hoof Award. While we realize not everyone can 'win', it is without a doubt that all of our candidates are winners for making such a tremendous impact in the lives of people affected by this disease.”

Businesses donated a number of products and services in support of one of the 11 candidates, which were auctioned off during the event. Higher end items had a value of $265,000 and more, including trips to Big Sur, the Smokies, to Yankees games and even business-oriented items, like a magazine spread, digital billboards and marketing packages.

The massive event was the result of a multitude of volunteers and many, many hours of planning.

“Last year we had 100 volunteers and we have (even) more volunteers this year,” said April Ameling, Kiss a Pig volunteer committee chair. “We had seven subcommittees plan the event and six months” to work toward meeting our goal of raising half a million dollars.

Charles Redfield, executive vice president & chief merchandising officer for Sam’s Club, was this year’s Honorary Chair and central speaker for the event. His life is personally affected by diabetes, since his father-in-law suffers from the disease.

“I asked him how it affected his life and he said ‘It stinks. I feel like I have sandpaper running through my veins,’” Redfield said. “We want to help people learn how to live with the disease.”

Sam’s Club is active on the front of care for diabetes patients with a variety of products and services, including a free monthly health screening for both members and non-members.

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“We had products, but ... people told us that they wanted services,” he said. “In our Healthy Living Made Simple magazine, we talk about diabetes in every issue, but our (most recent) issue was entirely about diabetes.”

The magazine offers recipes that are ideal for the average Diabetes patient and tips for making quality of life better.

“We wouldn’t mind seeing our sales decrease in (those products),” Redfield said. “Because we’d just as soon like to find a cure.”

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