TUPELO – Tom Evans is not hard to miss. Sporting red slacks, a bright sport coat and a big white hat with brightly colored feathers, Evans loves to provide a fun time to guests.
“I never was a derby fan until I started hosting,” Evans said. “I’m the one that always just wanted everyone to have a good time.”
Every May, Evans and his neighbors get together with Regional Rehab to host the event at his home on Robins Street. Tents, tables and chairs are set up for a party that features live music, live and silent auctions and four flat-screen televisions that broadcast the race, all on the front lawn.
“We started in our backyards, but one year it got so wet that we decided to move it to the front,” Evans said. “Later, I bought a lot next door, and I decided that I would not build a house on it. It is strictly for derby and community activities.”
The 19th Annual Kentucky Derby Party is a major fundraiser for Regional Rehab, a nonprofit long-term rehab center that provides speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, audio logical services and early intervention services, all at no cost to the center’s clients.
Each attendee receives a ticket that gets you admission to the event, heavy hors d’oeuvres, $500 Derby Dollars (play money to bet with), live music and one drink ticket. The mint julep, synonymous with the horse race, is served in a collector’s glass that comes with the drink ticket.
“The mint julep has always been the southern drink of choice at great social events, like the Kentucky Derby,” Evans said.
A great big party
Tupelo-resident Rubye Del Harden loves to support Regional Rehab any chance she gets. She has been a guest at the derby party for so long, she can’t remember the last time she missed one.
“The event is just so festive, fun and different,” Harden said. “I’m not one who would pay that much attention to the Kentucky Derby, but it is a fun thing to take a moment out of your day, eat some good food, watch a race and do something for a good cause.”
Her favorite part? Singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” a Stephen Foster ballad that was first played in 1921 for the 47th running that has been a derby tradition ever since.
“We all stand up and sing it as if we were right there,” Harden said.
Robby Parman is the director of Regional Rehab in Tupelo. Parman said the derby party is a “great chance for people in North Mississippi” to come out and get the “whole Kentucky Derby experience” while supporting Regional Rehab.
“We have the sanctions to be called an official Kentucky Derby party,” he said. “This is a huge fundraiser for our center, and we can’t thank people enough for their support.”
All proceeds from the derby party goes towards Regional Rehab. The center uses that money to be able to continue to serve services at no cost.
“We’ve done this for 19 years, and we hope to do it for many more years to come,” Evans said. “Regional Rehab is a great cause that is free to everyone. Many people get therapy who would never get the chance otherwise.”