It debuted one November night in 1984 in the old Marathon LeTourneau hanger at the Gregg County Airport.
Days of rain had muddied fields around the hanger, so people left their cars in an industrial plant’s parking lot off FM 349. Vans from Good Shepherd Medical Center shuttled them to the party.
“Texas Chic” was the theme, country western was the music and a giant papier-mâché boot was the star centerpiece as 300 of Longview’s movers and shakers ate, drank and danced their way to midnight.
At the end of the first “Gold Rush,” $95,000 had been raised for a heart catheterization laboratory (a “cath lab”) at Good Shepherd, said Linda Butter Thomas, who spearheaded the event.
“It was the first time anyone in town charged $100 (a ticket for a fundraiser). It was the first country western, informal fundraiser,” she said.
“They moved the planes out and we had the entire hanger. We put up tents on the apron for the silent auction,” Thomas continued. Food and drinks were donated, and hospital vendors also supported the event.
“We wanted to make sure this was an inexpensive one, so that the money raised went to the hospital,” Thomas said.
Thirty-five years and almost $10 million dollars later, the mission of Gold Rush remains the same, though the beneficiary is now Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center.
The theme of this year’s Gold Rush is “Gatsby,” and it will be held from 7 p.m. to midnight Oct. 20, at the Maude Cobb Convention & Activity Center, 100 Grand Boulevard in Longview. Tickets are $150 each and are available now.
What is today Christus Good Shepherd Guild also dates to 1984. It was created to produce Gold Rush, and Thomas was its first president.
The guild is a subsidiary of the Christus Good Shepherd Foundation, said Aliceson Howell, director of development for Christus Good Shepherd Foundation Longview/Marshall.
The guild is the special-events fundraising arm of the foundation, which provides philanthropic support to Christus Good Shepherd.
“The guild is a gift. There is no way, over the past 35 years, that we would have been able to raise (almost $10 million) without those amazing women,” Howell said.
“No matter what the health-care system is – private, public, nonprofit – there are not enough corporate dollars to cover the needs of a hospital. Hospitals can’t sustain themselves without philanthropic dollars and community support,” she said.
In the past, money raised has gone for a mobile mammography unit, heart and lung machines and the Institute of Healthy Living, Howell said.
This year, the money will buy infant warmers for “our tiniest patients,” she added. The 36-member guild determines where the money goes.
Gold Rush usually raises around $300,000, though last year’s total was $145,000. That figure may have been due to the 2017 event’s timing; it took place while Christus Health System was acquiring Good Shepherd, Howell said.
Tina Grider-Lyon is chair of this year’s Gold Rush. She chose the theme.
“We wanted it to be a little more festive, since it’s our 35th year. … We wanted an elegant type of atmosphere, like a ball. It’s also a casual event, too. People can wear 1920s clothes or dress casually,” she said.
The event will feature a live and silent auction, a raffle for a 2018 Ford Edge, and food from various Longview restaurants. There also will be dancing; the band is “The Project,” Grider-Lyon said.
Thomas remains a Gold Rush supporter and is treasurer of the foundation’s board of directors.
“Good health care in our community, for all its citizens, is probably the most important thing it can offer,” she said of her 35-year-commitment to the organization. “I think it’s one of the most worthwhile things I could be involved in.”