50 years of desert debutantes: Scottsdale foundation recognizes milestone


This year, the Desert Foundation Auxiliary is celebrating fifty years of tradition, family, and fun through its annual activities, culminating in the 50th Annual Desert Ball where 13 young ladies from the city of Scottsdale, Town of Paradise Valley and Carefree will be presented.

On Jan. 21, 1965 a group of young Scottsdale women met at the Casa Blanca Inn to determine the feasibility of establishing a Debutante Ball in Scottsdale.

The group was unanimously in favor of the desirability of such an event and it was decided that the first ball would be held in the weekend following Christmas in order not to conflict with dates of similar events in the Valley.

The purpose of the ball was to be: 1) to simply but elegantly offer a means of recognizing the many fine young women who should be so honored, and 2) to raise funds for several deserving Scottsdale charities.

It was decided that the girls to be honored would be college freshmen or its equivalent.

The founding members of the Desert Foundation emphasized that the Desert Ball should remain a small, but elegant event, and that they should strive to maintain the traditional methods of presentation, but with the emphasis to be on the girls and their friends.

Today, the Desert Foundation continues the tradition set forth by this group that every Desert Debutante hosts a “Debutante table” filled with her friends.  This early group of founding members quickly grew in number to about 60 women and the first Desert Ball was set for Thursday, Dec. 29, 1966.

The first Desert Ball

The first Desert Ball was held at the Safari Hotel and was chaired by Mrs. G. Robert Herberger and co-chaired by Mrs. Niblack Thorne.  Mrs. A. Inman Marshall, Jr. presided as the first Desert Foundation chairman.

Tickets were $50 per couple with $30 of the ticket price serving as a charitable donation. A menu of crab Louie, filet mignon, and Kentucky bibb lettuce salad was served with pecan pie and ice cream for dessert. Carl Ritter’s Orchestra and The Wanderers provided the music.
Beyond the elegant décor of pink and seasonal green and orange, the Desert Foundation Auxiliary and its first ball were credited by the local media with bringing Scottsdale into Society.

“Two years of quiet but energetic planning in which a new charitable enterprise was created; a new standard set in the Valley for the debut of young ladies, and, for the first time in the history of the colorful community, a Society was established.  It is as much a sign of maturity as the recent approval of a Civic Center and the commissioning of a notable architect to design it,” stated The Arizonian at the time of the first ball.

Proceeds from the first ball supported the Scottsdale Boys’ Club for a new roof on their existing gymnasium and the Scottsdale Blind Foundation for a summer recreation program and a contract for a mobility teacher for blind children.

The Desert Foundation Auxiliary through the years

From the Desert Foundation’s first Desert Ball the traditions of the New Member cocktail party, Mother Daughter Tea, and Waltz Curtsy party have continued.

Perhaps to the dismay of the young ladies presented, a substantive change occurred in that the Desert Debutantes now only have one escort whereas the first Debutantes had two. The first ten Desert Balls were held at the Hotel Safari before moving to the Camelback Inn for the eleventh, a move which the 1967 ball chairman Shirley Henderson opened in her ball report by stating, “If we ever have any claim to fame, 1976 will very likely be remembered as the year of the big change in the Desert Ball.”

With the change in location Auxiliary members felt that the warm and friendly atmosphere that has always been apparent at the ball should be maintained and ultimately the members were satisfied with the move.

The Camelback Inn even rented or purchased black and white uniforms for their servers and staff when the ball committee did not feel that their traditional orange uniforms satisfactorily matched the decorations. In 1979, the Desert Ball moved to the newly built Registry Resort before moving once again to its current home at the Phoenician Resort in 1988.

The Desert Foundation Auxiliary today

Over the next forty years, the Desert Foundation Auxiliary continued to present young ladies from the city of Scottsdale and the towns of Paradise Valley and Carefree. Attendance at the balls grew as did the amount raised for charity.

Throughout the years however, the Auxiliary’s unwavering commitment to tradition and celebrating family and friends has remained steadfast.

This year, the Desert Foundation Auxiliary will host its 50th Annual Desert Ball on Dec. 22, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.
Proceeds from the 50th Annual Desert Ball with benefit the Phoenix Dream Center and GiGi’s Playhouse Phoenix.

The Scottsdale Independent publishes a free daily newsletter. A print edition is mailed to 75,000 homes and businesses each month. If you value our journalistic mission, please consider showing us your support.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment