Running for the Roses in Tupelo

n 10th annual event will benefit the Regional Rehabilitation Center.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll pick a winner, but the odds are good for a fun time at the annual Derby Day party.

“It’s just a fun afternoon,” said Tom Evans, who cohosts the party that benefits the Regional Rehabilitation Center.

Organizers can guarantee the 10th annual Derby Day on May 3 will be the biggest one yet.

This year, neighbor and Regional Rehab’s office manager Roye Langford is joining Evans and Kevan and Maribeth Kirkpatrick in hosting the event at their Robins Street homes.

“It has grown to take in four yards,” said Evans, who has two lots just north of Milam School. “We can’t grow anymore unless we cut through the hedges,” Evans said with a laugh.

The $30 tickets come with a mint julep, heavy hors d’oeuvres and $500 in Derby Dollars for wagering on the Kentucky Derby. The play money winnings are spent at an auction later in the evening.

Tim Pruitt’s band, the Boomers, is returning to entertain the crowd later in the evening.

Traditional fun

Just like the Kentucky Derby, which the party celebrates, the Tupelo event has developed its own traditions for the elegant, relaxed event.

Evans and his helpers pull out the silver, crystal and linen napkins. It’s more than worth all the extra effort.

“It wouldn’t be the same with paper napkins,” Evans said.

Favorite foods like smoked pork loins, peanut butter candy, Kay’s chicken salad and decadent desserts are served every year. And it wouldn’t be a Derby party without mint juleps.

“The traditions are so much fun,” said Kay Mathews, executive director of Regional Rehabilitation Center.

With all the eating and fun, it is the Kentucky Derby that is the center of the action. People place their bets with Derby Dollars and the cheer on their favorites during the Run for the Roses. After the payouts, the fun begins as they use the Derby Dollars in spirited bidding with the live auction.

The silent auction – which involves real money – covers an incredible treasure trove of items, including Christmas ornaments made from stained glass salvaged from Jefferson Place, a personalized John Grisham novel and a gift basket including box seats and backside passes to Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby.

Watch it grow

The Derby Day party has gotten bigger every year.

In 1999, Edith Thomas hosted the first event at her home off South Thomas Street.

“We hauled all the silver over there,” Evans said.

In 2000, it just seemed simpler to have it in the backyard of Evan’s Robbins Street home. The party then spread next door into the Kirkpatrick’s backyard, and now to Langford’s.

“We’ve just taken over,” Mathews said.

Hats – another Kentucky Derby tradition – have gotten more elaborate every year. The first year the hats were simple straw. Now they cover the rainbow with flowers and all sorts of added decorations.

The Derby Day also has grown into a strong contributor for Regional Rehab.

The first few years, the Derby party contributed a few thousand dollars to the budget, Mathews said. Last year, the event raised $20,000.

Where they money goes

Although the Regional Rehab has a $2 million capital campaign in progress to pay for repair work to its 45-year-old building, the money from the Derby Day party goes to the center’s operations

It takes about $1 million to run the center which provides physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, audiology services and early intervention services without charging patients. Children and young adults make up about 75 percent of the center’s clients.

“The money donated to Regional Rehab stays at the rehab center,” Mathews said.

Michaela Gibson Morris is a Daily Journal staff writer. Contact her at 678-1599 or

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