The Darien Library's sixth annual Spring Gala Saturday evening was a grand social celebration that drew more than 200 of Darien's most generous residents.
The major fundraising event, which aimed to raise in the area of $100,000, featured a collection of auction items, "heliotropes" and many friends of the town's favorite facility. The final tally of funds raised was unavailable before press time.
"I love the library," Pamela Kernan said. "We're walking distance to it and our kids use it all the time ... It's a gift to this town."
Supporters returned that gift by contributing to help the library meet its annual commitment for one-quarter of its overall budget, which is in the area of $2.8 million.
"This is a community that supports its library significantly," Director Alan Kirk Gray said.
"This is the fifth annual library Spring Gala," he said. "It's a part of our annual fundraising."
Gray explained that the town's responsibilities to the library budget centers on salaries and benefits, which are the largest cost, as well as general operating expenses. Meanwhile, he said, Friends of the Darien Library focuses on providing books, DVDs, programs and technology.
This year's gala theme, in fact, was technology, engineering and arts, making it a literal TEA Party.
"We're really taking a three-pronged approach this year," said John Blyberg, assistant director for innovation and user experience, with the TEA Room a new kind of worker space area that was created in the children's department.
Gala guests -- in between tempting tastes of hors d'oeuvres and visits by a pair 10-foot-tall, stilt-walking heliotropes in garish costume -- had the chance to explore some of the new technology that's become available through the library, including two 3D printers and a drone with video capability.
"We really want to give people the chance to explore this kind of technology," Blyberg said. "We believe this is a really good investment for this town."
He explained that programs like the TEA Room give kids and adults alike an opportunity to expand their education, experiences and skills.
"We introduce that technology knowing this is emerging," he said. "Where else is this going to happen? There's no other institution in town that's going to do this."
Toward that end, the gala gave everyone a chance to contribute. Along with simply attending, patrons were also invited to bid on a wide range of donated items that included VIP tickets to the Daily Show, catered meals, paintings, golf games and even interior design consultation from one of the event co-chairmen.
"This one is special because we're promoting enhancing art and science at the library," said Kerrie Kelley, who made special mention of Darien Rowayton Bank for its support of the event. "They made a nice contribution to help us make our goals."
She praised the library's work, but emphasized that there was always more to do. "We want to keep staying a step ahead," she said.
"It's a great event for the community to celebrate all they do for it," Tara Ochman, who serves on the library board, said
"It's a great cause," Neche Lash, another supporter, said.
"It's just incredible all the support the library gets," said Vic Pensiero, the library's building engineer and Darien's fire chief, who helped organize the set-up, along with a slew of volunteers.
"We kind of transformed this room the night before and it'll be back to normal tomorrow."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.