SANTA FE, N.M. — “Do not regret growing older; It is a privilege denied to many.”
Boy! I’ve noticed recently a number of my friends’ ages beginning with an 8 …
Margaret Holt, Barbara Flicker, Zoe Gayl, Eleanor Brenner – gorgeous, interesting, vital ladies in their eighties! Eighty is surely the new 50!
Eleanor just hit 80 this June and cheerfully, proudly admits to every year. What a life! A little tiny dynamo of a lady with a heart as big as her legendary hacienda and, if you don’t know about her, go to Google.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that, years ago, when my dearest friend was killed in a plane crash, leaving my young daughter without her godmother, this incredible woman stepped in and volunteered to take her place … Called our church and took Christian godmother lessons! What a mensch, and she has been a blessing and an inspiration as a godmother ever since, thank you Lord! Who do you know who would do that?) But I digress …
These days, her passion and purpose is propelling underprivileged Santa Fe youth out of the bottom of the rut (always 50th or 49th on the education list in America) and up to their full human potential through the program she and her late husband Richard founded, First Serve New Mexico.
The program combines physical activity with academic tutoring and personal attention. Tennis is the activity, providing concentration, agility, coordination, running, jumping, aiming, hitting, missing, trying, winning, losing, sportsmanship – lessons in life. The tutoring concentrates on the students’ weaknesses in school and helps them to “get it,” whatever “it” means each time, for each child.
Learning: After you get it, you move forward and you don’t move forward until you’ve gotten it … a philosophy ignored by many schools which rationalize advancing students who can’t even read – ultimately a great disservice to a person.
Every year, Eleanor gives a gala benefitting First Serve, always with an imaginative theme. These galas are always black tie or a costume apropos of the theme. Lavish, exciting, fantasy decor and lighting, a tent filled with lushly decorated tables and a fabulous live band brought in from afar, every detail special.
And Eleanor’s parties are fun! You’re eager to give the donation to the children of First Serve because what is being accomplished with this program is important and First Serve is doing a fantastic job, and for the beauty and delight of participating in Eleanor’s spectaculo!
This year, the Gala coincided with Eleanor’s 80th birthday for an explosive idea – raising $1,000,000 for First Serve. Not an easy task in a little bitty town! Unless you’re Eleanor Brenner and you outdo all your previous creations – the Roaring ’20s Speakeasy Night, the Murder Mystery Night, the Evening in the Raj, where all 150 guests were characters written by Eleanor herself, the Venetian Masked Ball evening.
So … back in the day, between the Thirties and the Sixties, celebrities, aristocrats and various elites frequented the prestigious Stork Club in New York City. Ordinary people couldn’t just show up and try to go in … no, no. Très exclusive! Sherman Billingsley’s ultra chic establishment was the pinnacle of nightclubs, perhaps in the world, and a very special place to see and be seen, as was the Stork Club Eleanor recreated for First Serve New Mexico.
The black marquee with jeweled chandeliers and sparkle lights everywhere set a sophisticated tone for the evening as the band played continuously and the wine flowed into hand-blown stemmed goblets. The rousing auction included a trip to the U.S. Open tennis tournament with VIP box seats, a custom diamond necklace and a major painting by Santa Fe artist Helene Pfeffer. Along with the ticket sales for the sold-out crowd of 240 and some individual donations, Eleanor reached her lofty goal!
To stay in First Serve New Mexico, students must keep up their grade-point average, and attend practice and tutoring every day. (Leaving not much time for getting into trouble.) Eleanor attends, too, and knows all the participants and their lives, intimately. Her success rate is phenomenal: 1,000 students have been through the program to date, 1,000 lives changed.
Most go to college; some learn a trade instead. Almost all go on to a productive and fulfilling life. One graduate of First Serve who spoke to us is a senior in college pursuing science and international studies. Another earned a degree in engineering and works at Los Alamos National Lab. One cheerful young man is beginning a career in the hospitality industry, a good fit.
I hear they danced until the wee hours of the morning. I can’t stay up that late!
I’m not 80 yet.
Ashley Margetson has a BA in English from UCLA, is a senior real estate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty and has a finger on the pulse of philanthropic activities. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Serve New Mexico Founder, Eleanor Brenner.
Mark and Patty Brenner Jackson.
Josette de la Harpe and Alan Rolley.
Susan Enders and Anthony Brenner.
Natalie Fitzgerald was stunning black and yellow.
Kris de Navasquez enjoyed the First Serve event.
Santera Arlene Cisneros Sena and Richard Sena.