Showcase offers best of the region's restaurants

Monday, November 21, 2005
Ron Bohnert, left, with Pagliai's Pizza served ravioli to Brandon Manker of Cairo, Ill., at the Southeast Showcase. (Fred Lynch)

"Lemme hear you say arrrrrr!"

A menacing pirate stalked around in satin breeches, brandishing his sword, but instilling fear in no one. He was one of the characters at the recent Show Me Showcase at the Show Me Center. The Southeast Foundation, which sponsors the Halloween-themed showcase, chose "Pirates of the Caribbean" as this year's theme for the event where local restaurants and beverage vendors offer samples of their merchandise.

Forty-six businesses set up booths and offered samples of everything from Cajun food to pizza to wine to support the hospital's patient care and nurse education funding. What's different about this year's event is that it's Southeast Foundation director Chuck Stotz's last Showcase. He has coordinated the Show Me Showcase for 17 years, and has raised money for other not-for-profit organizations for 38 years.

"After 38 years of running these kinds of things, I'm happy to give it up," he said.

At the age of 64, Stotz says he's old enough to retire, and he's looking forward to it. Under his direction, the showcase has raised more than $200,000. Add to that the other fundraisers and events Stotz has directed for the hospital, and the total comes to about $9 million, which he attributes more to the "generosity of the community" than to anything he has done.

In 17 years, he said, attendance has grown to about 1,000 vendors and visitors who participate in a Halloween costume contest, and in general have a good time while supporting the hospital.

"It's the least we can do," commented Ron Bohnert, handing out pizza samples from Pagliai's Restaurant. Bohnert said Pagliai's has participated in the showcase for 15 years.

Derek Pearson, territorial sales representative for Pepsi-Cola, says the showcase is not only a way of promoting the company, but "we get to meet other vendors we're always competing with, seeing them at a different level in a different area. We're not competing here; that makes it nice."

Beth Patton, manager of Stone Hill Winery's New Florence location, was handing out samples of three different vintages of the winery's Chardonel to thirsty guests.

"We like doing these events, especially when the event is to help donate time and service for an excellent cause such as a hospital," Patton said.

The atmosphere was festive and the crowd snaked around in a stream past the food booths. The showcase is an idea Stotz brought with him from Arlington, Texas, where his brother Jim was head of the YMCA and ran a similar fund-raiser.

"I copied my brother's idea," he admitted.

So after 38 years raising money for various organizations, Stotz is going to sit back and for a while do nothing.

"I'm going to let the lifestyle find me, as opposed to me finding the lifestyle," he said. "I'm going to find out if daytime TV is as bad as people say it is."

He and his wife are going to move first. They intended to retire to Florida, "but eight hurricanes convinced us that was a dumb idea," he said.

Instead they will move to Virginia and be nearer to their daughter who lives in Connecticut. Until he officially retires Jan. 1, 2006, and until he is replaced, Stotz said he will be available to help whenever he can. But he says Southeast Foundation will benefit from "new blood and new ideas."

And that's just fine with him.

"I'm not the kind of guy who believes because you don't do it my way it should be my way. When I leave I'm gone."

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