Organizers raise stakes for 'Signature Event'


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Several years ago when the economy was in the doldrums, most fund-raising committees were forced to set their sights considerably lower than the pie-in-the-sky expectations of yesteryear.

With good reason, of course.

Corporate downsizing, widespread layoffs, and the free-fall in the real estate market put a squeeze on charitable giving throughout the state, especially in the “auto alley” of Southeastern Michigan.

Correspondingly, the outlook for such fund-raisers as the “Signature Event,” the chief money-maker for the Oakland County Bar Foundation, was chancy and challenging at best, according to current OCBF President Eric Pelton.

“We had to be realistic in our goal-setting, but we also knew that because the economy was bad, the needs for legal services in the community were likely to be even greater,” said Pelton, a partner with Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton in Birmingham. The conundrum remains as perplexing today in a much-improved Michigan economy, where those charged with making the calls and pressing the flesh in search of donations are constantly challenged to surpass the amount of money raised in previous years.

Organizers of the 16th annual Signature Event, which is scheduled for May 1 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, hope to exceed the more than $260,000 raised at last year’s gala. Upward of 400 OCBF supporters are expected to attend the soiree that runs from 7-10 p.m. and features a strolling supper. Tickets are $175 per person.

“We are fortunate to have three Platinum Sponsors — Conway MacKenzie, Kenwal Steel, and Stout Risius Ross — each of which has pledged $10,000,” Pelton said.

“We are fortunate to have three Platinum Sponsors – Conway MacKenzie, Kenwal Steel, and Stout Risius Ross – each of which has pledged $10,000,” Pelton said. “We also have a number of Gold Sponsors (Dickinson Wright, Doeren Mayhew, Flagstar Bank, Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton, and Sue Ellen Eisenberg & Associates, GK & Co. –Resolution Experts, Kohn Financial Consulting, Computing Source Litigation Support Services, Hewson & Van Hellemont, and Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers), who have pledged $5,000 apiece. Our list of Silver ($2,500) and Bronze ($1,000) Sponsors also includes a number of firms and businesses that have traditionally supported this event, year after year.”

Proceeds from the dinner will be channeled into a number of legal aid programs and educational projects that OCBF supports, according to Pelton.

Among the beneficiaries are The RESTORE Foundation; Beaumont Legal Aid for Children & Families; the University of Detroit Mercy; the Family Law Assistance Project; the Estate Planning Clinic; the Michigan Center for Civic Education through Law; the Council on Legal Education Opportunity; the Youth Law Conference; and Senior Law Day, among other worthwhile projects.

Since 2002, the Signature Event has raised more than $1.7 million to help fund a “wide range of programs that provide legal services for the underserved in Oakland County and education programs that promote respect for our courts and the rule of law,” according to Pelton.

“Without the Signature Event, we could not sustain the foundation’s mission,” he said, noting that becoming a sponsor or purchasing tickets to the May 1 gala can help “you make a difference in the quality of life for those around us.”

In 1999, an alliance with the Oakland County Bar Association created the current OCBF organization, setting in motion the means for a greater fund-raising profile and the Signature Event of today, Pelton explained.

OCBF trustees Chuck Moore and Kaveh Kashef are co-chairing the fund-raising committee for the Signature Event. Other members include David C. Anderson, Diane Dietle, Sue Ellen Eisenberg, Michael Kahaian, Patrick McCarthy, David Plunkett, Lynn Sirich, Tom Tallerico, and Tom Kimble.

“It’s never an easy job to raise money, but we are committed to supplying funding for all the worthwhile programs that seek our help,” Pelton said. “Our committee members have done a terrific job in reaching out to the legal and business communities for help, and we are fortunate that our message has resonated with those in a position to lend a hand.”

Those interested in purchasing tickets to the May 1 event can contact Katie Tillinger at the Oakland County Bar Association for more information, 248.334.3400 or

Sponsorship opportunities also are still available by contacting Tillinger or by visiting the OCBA’s website at