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Gala 2010
Circus clown, from left, Jessi Wonderfool and showgirl Hannah Christ have fun Sunday during the Circus of Chefs fundraiser. Brian D. Bridgeford / News Republic

A record number of guests enjoyed fine food and drink by some of the area's most skilled chefs during Circus World Museum's Gala 2010, bringing in a record $170,000 to support the museum and its activities.

CWM Executive Director Steve Freese said Thursday afternoon he is still tallying up seat purchases from the last two weeks, but expects the annual Circus of Chefs fundraiser will come in $20,000 over its goal of $150,000. The event hosted about 500 guests along with 32 top chefs, their support staff and vendors for about 625 participants in total.

The added income is due to more people attending the event and greater sales of donated merchandise through live and silent auctions, he said.

This year The Gala featured 303 auction items and their sale generated about $30,000 of the total. The auctions included unique things such as costumes worn by late Madison-native and comedian Chris Farley and donated by his brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Laura Farley, Freese said."We had one of the original costumes worn by Farley in "Almost Heroes," he said. "We had the DVD of "Almost Heroes" and we had one of Chris's personal skit scripts from "Saturday Night Live."

Freese attributed this year's success to seven months of hard work by Gala Committee Co-Chairs Merlin and Jenele Zitzner of Baraboo and Jonathan and Susan Lipp of Madison. Both couples worked to attract firms willing to support the museum by purchasing tables at the year's Circus of Chefs.

Freese said The Gala is one of the biggest non-profit fundraisers in the state of Wisconsin, yet they only spent about $2,000 making it happen. Part of that success comes from substantial support by community firms.

For example, Zitzner worked with Viking Express Market in Baraboo to obtain bottles of wine Gala participants purchased.

"I think they gave us 606 bottles of wine to do in the cork sale," Freese said. "They've been very, very good to us."

Invitations and program books for The Gala were printed free by Middleton-based Advertisers Press due to the efforts of the Lipps, he said.

"It goes to show you the dedication the co-chairs and their spouses have to do this event," Freese said. "Merlin and Jonathan are both members of our board of directors.

"It shows you the phenomenal support from the community."

Freese said the Circus of Chefs will return next year with few if any changes. It is a winning recipe to support CWM and its performances.

"Last year was a tough year and we did $154,000, this year we've done $16,000 more than that," he said. "That's a pretty significant increase when the economy has not gotten that much better.

"When you can generate that kind of revenue with, you know, only $2,000 in expenses, I think every non-profit in America would like to have our formula for doing it," Freese said.

Information about CWM including exhibits, this year's circus performance and details of the Circus of Chefs may be found online - http://circusworld.wisconsinhistory.org.