Legends of the Call: 30 Years of the Tyler Cattle Barons’ Gala


On August 12, 2017, the Tyler area will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the American Cancer Society Cattle Barons’ Gala. Thirty years of past chairmen will be honored for their diligent service to the American Cancer Society in true East Texas style. This year's Chairmen, Darla Childress and Debra Smith have secured Trace Adkins, country music singer, songwriter, and actor, as the featured entertainer.  Darla promises this year’s Gala will “honor all of those who are and have been in the fight with cancer, as well as, those who have volunteered countless hours serving. It will honor those in the medical field, who on a daily basis help patients and families. We will recognize the wonderful donors of our community who, so graciously give to help fund a cure in this cancer battle.” Beautifully and appropriately named Legends of the Call. Debra Smith describes this year’s theme, “Fighting cancer is a calling and there are those on the front lines answering this call every day. A legend is a history-maker, a world-changer. When Darla and I planned our 30th Anniversary theme, Legends of the Call, we hoped to honor all the Legends … remarkable people disguised as ordinary friends who have fought bravely, generously volunteered their time, given resources, and poured so much heart into the Call of fighting cancer. They make history with stride. They are our legends.”

The American Cancer Society Cattle Barons’ of Dallas has been actively supporting cancer research and treatments since 1974. Tyler and its surrounding areas were a prime location for hosting such an event.  Past chairmen and best friends Debbie Townsend and Jan Norton brought the Gala to East Texas in 1988. Debbie remembers how the first Gala found the two friends,  “Jan and I have always been active in our community by chairing many different events, so our names were known. We were asked by the local President of the American Cancer Society Board at that time. We discussed at length with each other and our spouses the huge undertaking this would be and decided we could do this because of the cause! We were the first, so we didn’t have notes or notebooks or anything to go by. I guess we thought if we made a mistake no one but us would know.” They set their expectations and began planning “a fundraising event that had never been done in Tyler.” Themed The Yellow Rose of Texas, Louise Mandrell was the entertainer at the Casa Cassel Arabian Horse Farms in Lindale. How did the two friends manage to create an event that is still going strong 30 years later? Debbie recalls that, “it took sheer determination and the will to succeed to pull this off! People actually thought they would walk in pastures with cows and cow manure! I can honestly say neither one of us were afraid of hearing no.” Still, with that strong determination, Debbie shares her advice for future Cattle Barons’ Gala Chairmen, “believe in your ability to exceed your goals; ask for everything; the word NO doesn’t hurt a bit and never forget the cause we are fighting … CANCER!"

Since that 1st Gala in 1988, the Tyler Cattle Barons’ has evolved and “creates unique celebrations for our community, but continues to focus on raising as much money as possible. Thanks to our volunteers this year, we continue building on three decades of enthusiasm that has yielded enormous rewards in our community,” states Debra Smith. “It’s been a great joy to see it evolve. Having this opportunity to visit with past chairs, hearing their stories of blurps they encountered and yet they still made the amount of money they made for the American Cancer Society is amazing. We are so thankful for their commitment to our community. Tyler and the surrounding communities are abundantly generous. I think this generosity overspills with Cattle Barons’ because cancer is one disease that affects every one of us. May it be our family member or our friend; we are all touched by this ugly disease,” Darla Childress shares. 

The first Cattle Barons’ Gala brought in $121,661.00. Since then, the gala has raised over 14 million dollars that locally supports research, treatment, preventative care, and patient advocacy. From maintaining the website, supporting live chats, and toll-free telephone numbers to literature, educational tools, and advocacy with insurance companies, our local American Cancer Society wants the Tyler area to know that, “every penny benefits our community.” While raising funds is the primary goal for the Galas, it is rewarding to see money raised being put into action. “When a lady enters the American Cancer Society office without hair from chemo and leaves confidently with a beautiful new wig on her head; when a family member comes in and just needs a shoulder to cry on; or when someone calls needing to know where they can turn to for help because they do not have insurance and the American Cancer Society is there to help … it is worth more than any money can pay to know we are helping those in need," Darla says. Debra has also seen funds raised by the Gala benefitting our community. “When you help change one person’s life, you change a family’s life, which can then change a community and ultimately change the world,” she states.

The 18 month plus process of planning the Cattle Barons’ Gala includes choosing a theme, the location, food, an entertainer, and so much more. Darla says that, “The very first decision made and the most important one is finding a great co-chair.  When asked to take this role, I knew I needed someone that also had a passion for this Call.  It had to be someone I could truly rely on. A hard, diligent worker, fully committed and someone I would enjoy working with.  Debra and I have volunteered together on past Cattle Barons’ committees.   She is a workhorse, but has such a heart for serving, and we have tons of laughs together.  Those things are a must!” The second most important decision in planning a gala is choosing your committee. “The committee is the foundation of the Gala, and we have a great team! Theme is third major decision made, because everything revolves around the theme … from colors, entertainment, decorations, food …everything,” she states. And, speaking of entertainment, Darla and Debra are excited about Trace Adkins headlining the 30th Anniversary Gala. "We are so blessed to be hosting Trace Adkins for this year's Gala.  Little did we know when he was secured that he would be announcing his new tour and a new album at the same time we announced him as our 2017 headliner.   He is a true patriot and definitely fits our theme as being a 'Legend’ of county music,” Darla enthusiastically shares. 

Legends of the Call will honor legends in the fight against cancer. These legends are past chairmen of the Cattle Barons’ Gala, cancer survivors, those fighting against cancer alongside their family and friends, and those that support the fight. Debra wants “everyone who walks through the Gala to have a wonderful time while remembering what and why we are celebrating.” First Chairmen Debbie Townsend and Jan Norton are excited about this year’s event as well. “The Tyler Cattle Baron’s Gala was our baby 30 years ago, and it is such an honor to know that 30 years later we made such an impact on our community,” they say. While continuing a tradition set three decades ago, Legends of the Call is sure to be a legend in the making!



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