Stars Over Mississippi transforms Amory into Hollywood South
By M. Scott Morris
AMORY -- Spotlights and Dolly Parton's smile combined to light up Amory Friday night for the 2000 Stars Over Mississippi.
Excitement was high as more than 750 people attended the all-star gala at Amory Middle School for the chance to rub elbows with stars like Brooke Shields and Debbie Allen.
Even though she comes from West Palm Beach, Fla., where celebrity sightings are commonplace, Sherry Cuthbert quickly got caught up in the excitement.
"I'm still celebrity-shocked. I think it's fabulous that all the stars come for such a wonderful cause," said Sherry Cuthbert, the wife of Amory native and Stars Over Mississippi corporate sponsor Doug Cuthbert.
Stars Over Mississippi benefits the Mary Kirkpatrick Haskell Scholarship Foundation, which was founded in 1991 by Sam Haskell in honor of his mother. More than $1 million has been raised for scholarships for Mississippi students.
Haskell, his wife and former Miss Mississippi Mary Donnelly Haskell and their two children were greeted with enthusiastic applause as they entered the Gala tent.
The crowd was equally appreciative as other big stars arrived for the evening.
Among those donating their time to help the youth of Amory are actor and area native John Dye, Kathie Lee Gifford, Emmy winner Gary Collins, Mississippi's former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, actor Gary Grubbs, area native and singer Guy Hovis, Broadway star and Ole Miss alumnus Laurie Gayle Stephenson and singer Marsha Tindall.
Super model Kathy Ireland was scheduled to be at the Gala but arrived late after missing her plane. She will be on hand for the concert and parade today.
"I'm disappointed I didn't get to see Kathy Ireland," said Don Still of Meridian. "She was one of the ones I wanted to see."
There was also a bonus star Friday night.
Sean Jones, a former defensive end with the Green Bay Packers attended the event with Burt Cuthbert.
"I'm here to see what it's all about," Jones said.
Ruby Allen of Carthage clearly enjoyed the excitement of her first Stars Over Mississippi Gala. She attended with Amory resident Karen Gault and Carolyn Laird of Houston, Texas.
"I've been to all five of them," Gault said. "It's going to be fantastic."
Dolly Parton gave early-comers a special treat. She was one of the first to arrive and was greeted with flashbulbs and applause as well as the obligatory "Hello, Dolly."
When Mary Ann Mobley arrived, she stopped to greet Amory resident Van Rogers, who had served as her driver during a previous Stars Over Mississippi.
"I'm so glad to see you," she said, then kissed Rogers on the cheek. "You look great."
This year, Rogers was assigned to drive actress Brooke Shields around Amory.
"I picked her up this afternoon," Rogers said. "She came down on a chartered bus from Memphis."
The air was alive with the smell of perfume and hairspray as men and women strutted in their finest clothes. Mallie Dennis, 10, of Booneville and Mary Elizabeth Myatt, 10, of Amory, confessed to spending an hour getting ready.
"It only took me five minutes," quipped Myatt's mother, Terry.
The Gala tent erected on the grounds of Amory Middle School looked about as elegant as a tent can look. The poles were decorated with orange, green and purples drapes topped with intricate flower arrangements.
Candles, ferns and flowers created a warm atmosphere inside the tent while the temperature was unseasonably cool outside.
Numerous volunteers wearing black bow ties hustled from table to table seeing to everyone's needs.
Susan Martin, curriculum coordinator for the Amory School District, traded in her school books for a pitcher of tea for one night.
"I'm in charge of the tea girls tonight," Martin said. "Everyone is so proud of Sam Haskell and what he's done. People from all over town are volunteering. It's wonderful."