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Published May 20, 2011

"Sit down,'' said Lee Moffitt, on the verge of tears as Magnolia Ball guests attempted a standing ovation Saturday. He preferred to turn attention to Moffitt Cancer Center staff, board members, legislators and CEO Bill Dalton. Dalton shared a page from a history book compiled for the 25th anniversary: Moffitt opened with 400 employees in 1986 and now numbers 4,200. They saw 1,500 patients the first year and 17,000 last year.

But the gala's biggest number - $3 million raised to cure cancer - was announced later, after guests pledged between $1,000 and $125,000 to match a $750,000 challenge by banker Donald A. Adam.

Commitments included $50,000 from ball chairmen Cindy and Jon Gruden "for the people I'm counting on to kick cancer's ass," the football coach/analyst told the elegant, black-tie crowd filling A La Carte Event Pavilion.

Another $50,000 came from breast cancer survivor Darby Steadman who spoke of how her upbeat outlook instigated the Driving Miss Darby Foundation to assist with transportation and housing during clinical trials.

Dinner arrived as the auction blasted off, including Mary Beth Fasano's $7,000 bid for a golden retriever puppy. Dr. Debra Shelby bought the New York Fashion Week package for two for $12,000.

It was after 10 when Foreigner, with original guitarist Mick Jones, finally took over, rocking to Feels Like the First Time, Cold as Ice, Double Vision and Hot Blooded. They weren't the only rock stars in the room. Seated at the Grudens' table were AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick.

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Casino Royale at Centro

Hillsborough Education Foundation headquarters turned into Casino Royale at Centro when poker, blackjack and slot machines filled the Teaching Tools store May 13. It turned out to be a lucky night for the board of directors and 100 guests swapping chips for tickets to prize drawings. Linda Hurtado, WFTS-Ch. 28, emceed the annual event, called the Apple Appeal and founded by Jim and Barbara Major five years ago.

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10th annual Sea Grapes food fest

Fish swim, guests guzzle, Sea Grapes fulfills, say fans of Florida Aquarium's annual fine wine and food festival. "Journey to Atlantis" began early May 7 for VIP tasters, with bites from SideBern's and Puff n' Stuff in reserved seats in the Explore A Shore area. They were also treated to jazz singer Rose Bilal and sips from John-Edward Alley's private wine collection.

The rest of the 1,000 guests arrived to sample 20 restaurants and 100 wines donated by Total Wine & More. Entertainers were everywhere, ranging from Busch Gardens wet suit hunks, Weeki Wachee mermaids and Taverna Opa's belly dancer.

The sell-out netted $155,000 for marine conservation and youth education programs, the most of any event in the aquarium's 10-year history.