The idea for a high-end progressive dinner in distinctive private residences took shape in conversations in early 1992 between Peggy Pierce, newly appointed first Executive Director of the Kidney Foundation of Central Pennsylvania, and David J. Morrison, likewise newly appointed as first Executive Director of Historic Harrisburg Association. Both organizations were seeking ways to expand, and a joint venture, drawing on their respective strengths, seemed like a good idea.
A volunteer marketing committee, co-chaired by two local newcomers in the advertising field, Joe Knezic and Michael Pavone, devised the Elegant Progressions name and its distinctive fanlight window logo, to be employed in a cutting-edge formal invitation to be sent to a newly merged list of about 1000 movers and shakers in Central Pennsylvania.
“In the summer of 1992,” Pierce would recall years later, “we staged a kick-off event to introduce the EP concept. We invited community leaders including medical and corporate professionals as well as volunteer leaders to an event at Harrisburg Hilton. Ellen Hughes served as “MC,” introducing David Morrison and me to describe different aspects of the event. We then sought reaction from participants, focusing on possible pitfalls of staging such an event. When some of the community skeptics seemed to support the idea, we knew we had a potential success on our hands. Dr. McCollister Evarts, the reigning Provost and Dean of Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, pledged a Platinum Sponsorship—the top-level sponsorship at that time—$2,000.00. That started the ball rolling.”
Pierce and Morrison were appointed to serve as co-chairs of the event, continuing in this capacity for five years. In 1997, Pierce yielded her position to Robert K. Haynes, a charter member of the EP committee, who for the next 6 years led the event to new heights of success and acclaim until his untimely death in 2002. The event has always relied on a strong committee structure, with dozens of volunteers engaged in everything to passing hors d’oeuvre to lighting the signature luminaries that line the driveways of the host properties.
Longtime supporter of Elegant Progressions, Alyce Spector, who was the founder of the Kidney Foundation in 1979 one year coined the branding phrase that links the two partner organizations: “restoring and sustaining lives in our community and the life of our community.” Well into its third decade, the partnership was rock solid, with corporate sponsors and benefactors praising the unique two-for-one charity arrangement.
Meanwhile Elegant Progressions continued to enjoy its reputation as a premiere social event, seen by many as the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season in Central Pennsylvania. Always hosted on the weekend following Thanksgiving weekend, EP continues to offer a choice of progressions on Friday and Saturday evenings. Guests are transported from property to property aboard chauffeured motor coaches, starting and ending at a designated Embarkation Site, where a champagne toast is served and welcoming announcements are made. At the three successive properties, they are served hors d’oeuvre and aperitifs, a formal dinner, and a dessert buffet. Live music entertainment is provided.
“Our goal is to make the experience of visiting these grand, private homes as authentic as possible,” says Morrison. There are no commercial interferences. You can leave our wallet at home!
Many guests have attended nearly every EP outing since 1992. That said, EP is not lacking for “new blood.” In 2014, the EP committee instituted a “Hall Foundation Scholarship” for up to 30 younger patrons under age 40, a deep discount generously underwritten by The Hall Foundation, which also has been the event’s presenting sponsor for at least that many years. “These young people are tomorrow’s philanthropists and community leaders,” says Robert Hall, chairman of the Foundation. “Everybody benefits!”