Derby Day in Tupelo

TUPELO – The race is on for those planning this year’s Kentucky Derby Party to benefit the Regional Rehabilitation Center.
“We are excited to be in high gear,” said Kay Mathews, executive director of Regional Rehab.
She and other Derby Day party planners got started six months ago on this year’s event, the 11th since 1999, to be May 2 at the homes of Tom Evans and Kevan and Maribeth Kirkpatrick on Robins Street.
“Planning this party is as much fun as the party itself,” Mathews said, noting the first was at the South Thomas Street home of Edith Thomas.
When it relocated to Robins Street, “We started in our back yards,” said Evans, who makes up mint juleps for partygoers.
“The mint juleps, that’s a treat,” Mathews said.
Food wise, “We have a traditional menu,” she said, “and dare not deviate from it because we will hear about it.”
The menu includes smoked pork loin and roast beef, homemade breads, chicken salad, fruit and cheese trays, and chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls.
“Nita Butler makes about 700 to 800 peanut butter balls,” Evans said, referring to Regional Rehab’s founder.
In 1954, Butler launched a campaign to help people with special needs in Northeast Mississippi, eventually opening the Cerebral Palsy Center in 1956. What became Regional Rehab has provided speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiological services and early intervention services to all ages at no charge ever since.
That’s why Regional Rehab fundraisers such as golf tournaments and a telethon are so important, Mathews said, noting the Derby Day event’s significance because of the dollars it brings in. Last year, silent auction items raised more than $20,000, with additional funds raised through tickets and the purchase of Derby Dollars.
“It’s play dollars,” explained committee member Lea Rankin, which can be used to bet on horses in the actual Kentucky Derby.
“We make it as realistic as possible,” said Alan Bank, president of Regional Rehab’s Board of Directors. “I’ve owned seven race horses, so they made me the head bookie the first year. We have six bookies you can bet with.”
The event also includes live music, door prizes and a hat contest. New this year, organizers said, is a hat sale, a red carpet entrance and the designation as an official Kentucky Derby party.
“It is a very elegant, classy event, but at the same time it is casual and comfortable,” Rankin said. “It is a true Southern lawn party.”

Contact Ginny Miller at (662) 678-1582 or

If you go …
– The 11th Annual Kentucky Derby Party to benefit the Regional Rehabilitation Center will be from 3 to 9 p.m. on May 2 at 419 and 425 Robins St. in Tupelo. Hosts are Tom Evans and Kevan and Maribeth Kirkpatrick.
Tickets are $30 a person, $225 for a table of eight, and $400 for a table of eight and unlimited beverages. Tickets are available by calling (662) 842-1891 or can be purchased at GO Creative Athletics & Arts, Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore, Way-Fil Jewelry or at the door.
Parking is available at Milam Elementary School.

Ginny Miller/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio