A touch of southern France combined with a competitive gambling spirit when Crane Country Day School held its annual fundraising auction, “Casino Royale,” at the Four Season Biltmore Resort’s Coral Casino & Cabana Club on the shores of the Pacific.

The May 5 party, which was entirely underwritten by sponsors, exceeded expectations, with revenues higher and expenses lower than projected.

“It was a big success and a beautiful evening with the supermoon shining down on us,” said event co-chairwoman Daryl Stegall, who noted that all funds raised the night of the event went directly to the school.

As guests arrived, they mingled outside underneath sophisticated crystal chandeliers, sipping Grey Goose martinis and playing their choice of games: poker, blackjack, craps or roulette. At the end of the patio was a special high-stakes poker game, in which each participant had paid $1,500 for the privilege of playing. The winner, Jon Samuels, received a credit toward any live or silent auction item.

“It was all luck,” said Samuels, who because of his vast knowledge of poker also served as the event’s gaming commissioner. “You can ask the dealer — I was behind the whole game until the end. I’ll take luck any day over brains!”

“He was really great at helping us as gaming commissioner,” said Gay Browne, the other event co-chairwoman, who said there were eight high-stakes poker players, including one woman, Laura Shelburne, Crane’s board of trustees president.

After cocktails, guests moved inside for chicken coq au vin and vanilla crème brulee. Crane school parent John McGovern led the auction, flanked by two glamorous assistants, Mary Blair, a former Crane parent, and her sister, Meg Purdy, a current parent. Seventeen trips or special experiences were auctioned off, including a chance attend the American Idol finale, tickets to Madonna’s concert in Las Vegas, tickets to Wimbledon and a trip to Fashion Week in New York City.

“The most important thing is that we are all here together. We are a family,” said McGovern, who is also a member of the Crane Board of Trustees. He also pointed out two tables of alumni parents attending the event.

Head of School Joel Weiss led a paddle raise following a video featuring graduates heading off to college, who spoke about why the school was special to them.

“When we started the video project, we were hoping to get a couple of sound bites,” Weiss said. “But we got so much good material that we could do a two- to three-hour documentary. What we do here at Crane really transforms them, and seeing them turn into such wonderful people is extraordinary.”

The event co-chairs Stegall and Browne came up with Casino Royale event theme together.

“We wove the theme together,” Stegal said. “We wanted to go more Monaco than Chumash,” she joked.

Holding the event at a hotel was a departure for Crane, which has staged many of its fundraising auctions on the campus at 1795 San Leandro Lane in Montecito.

“It wasn’t as zany as Crane usually does,” said Stegall, noting that in past years, the themes have required costumes, not party dresses. “But people said they loved the gaming and getting dressed up. Everyone looked so elegant.”

The school discovered this year that holding the event at a hotel was not only more cost effective than staging the event on campus, but also less time-consuming.

“It was so much easier to do at the Four Seasons than building a whole set up here at Crane,” Stegall said.

Key sponsors included Ella and Scott Brittingham; Gay and Tony Browne; Randi and Terry Cunningham; Janet and Gil Friesen; Elizabeth and Lee Gabler; Lisa and George Hagerman; Anne and Houston Harte; Debbie and John Mackall; Betsey and John Moller; and Leslie and Robert Zemeckis.

Committee members included Suzanne Garrett and Nancy O’Connor as live auction chairwomen; Angela and Ryan Siemens as sponsorship chairs; Kelly Simmons as party book chairwoman; Emily Jones and Jen Markham as silent auction chairwomen; Dinah and Ricardo Calderon on the raffle chairs; and Amanda Masters as the décor chairwoman. A special thanks goes to Cindy Racco and the Four Seasons.

Click here for more information on Crane Country Day School, or call 805.969.7732. Connect with Crane School on Facebook.

— Julia Rodgers is a Noozhawk contributing writer and Crane Country Day School parent. Contact her at news@noozhawk.com.