On Whidbey, the weird turn pro

Islanders re-define the fundraising gala.
Crosscut archive image.

Kirk Francis shortly before he was crowned Mr. South Whidbey.

Islanders re-define the fundraising gala.

On any given weekend in the Pacific Northwest, there are fundraisers of all shapes and sizes. From walk-a-thons and formal dinners to auctions both silent and verbose, the beneficiaries range from animals and the arts to youth and medical research. Oh, and sometimes politics. Back in the 1970s, when I was on staff at the Pacific Science Center, I helped coordinate the Festival of the Fountains. It's still going strong (the 41st edition was on July 25, 2008), and the outdoor Yamasaki courtyard, with its fountains and iconic arches, has to be one of the loveliest venues for a summer party in Seattle.

But most of the big-city fundraisers are held in boring ballrooms of big chain hotels. The dress is generally "see and be seen," and the menus begin to blur together after one too many, "What kind of chicken is this?" But up here on South Whidbey, which one resident recently proposed as the 51st State of the Union, we have a special fundraiser that has taken on a life of its own. Welcome to the Mr. South Whidbey Pageant.

The unusual pageant started in 2006 as a fundraiser for Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund. Candidates, who had to be both male and willing, were wrangled up and asked to run for the title of Mr. South Whidbey. But this wasn't your usual beefcake show of brains, brawn, and bravado — it was all about how much money each candidate could raise. If somebody donates 100 bucks in your name, you get 100 votes. My kind of election!

I missed the first year in 2006 — in fact, my husband, Bob Frause, was asked to be a candidate. But we already had plans to be out of town, so all I could do was enjoy the post-show reports and hilarious photos. Last year, Bob was tapped again to run for the coveted title, and he semi-willingly said OK. After a hard-fought campaign, Bob was crowned Mr. South Whidbey 2007. I was the proud and glowing wife, rushing up to the stage to plant a kiss on my man.

This year, I was asked to be the emcee for the 2008 edition. Why not? I was used to being on stage, plus I'd been sleeping with the current Mr. South Whidbey for more than 30 years. What other qualifications could a gal need? I treated the event seriously, interviewing the six candidates individually over coffee prior to the event. It helped that I knew all of them, some for 20-plus years, the others more recently. There were six in the running: Bob Dalton, 63, builder and remodeler; Jay Davenny, 60, building contractor; Kirk Francis, 61, motion picture sound mixer; Drew Kampion, 64, writer/editor; Tom McCabe, 60, retired firefighter; Chris Spencer, 59, mule skinner/cooper.

There was plenty of pre-fundraising going on this year, unlike when it debuted, when most of the money was raised during the night of the pageant. It was simple back then: If you liked a certain guy, you put money into a can plastered with his picture. Last year, things ramped up a bit, as several candidates sent out fundraising letters a month or so before the event.

But 2008 took on a life of its own. The candidates started offering premiums in return for donations. Kirk Francis, who won the 2007 Oscar for Sound Mixing for The Bourne Ultimatum, offered to take your picture with his Oscar for a minimum $100 donation; Drew Kampion's $100 premium was a horse-clamming expedition on South Whidbey, including home-made chowder; and Chris Spencer offered a set of his original photo note cards for $100. Tom McCabe one-upped them all with his offer to match dollar for dollar up to $5,000 that he raised.

The Mr. South Whidbey Pageant took place Saturday, Oct. 4 at the historic Freeland Hall. It was a sell-out; 125-plus people paid $25 each to watch six guys strut their stuff. No rubber chicken here, but box dinners of salmon cakes and a variety of salads from Fireseed Catering, along with a cash wine and beer bar. The three-hour evening was broken into three segments: Runway, Talent, and Q&A. Highlights of the runway show were Chris Spencer, draped in a Roman toga, transported on a litter by two Roman soldiers who dumped him on stage; Jay Davenny channeled the lead singer of a heavy metal band, complete with blaring music; Drew Kampion did his Obama surfer dude with apropos music; Bob Dalton wore a bright gold hot 'n heavy bear costume, prancing in to Teddy Bear's Picnic; flip-flop wearin' Kirk Francis was backed by Hawaiian music as he passed out leis to the audience; and Tom McCabe transformed himself into Nanook of the North.

The winner was Kirk Francis of Langley, with Tom McCabe and Chris Spencer as runners up. So why does a seemingly normal group of guys go to such lengths to become Mr. South Whidbey? As the new Mr. South Whidbey Kirk Francis stated: "Heck, it's a fine cause and somebody's got to do it. As Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once averred, 'When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.'"


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