Living Columns & Blogs

Modest beginnings lead to multi-sport event

The Five Star Celebrity Classic scarcely resembles the first event held 28 years ago, when Jaime Kaplan coaxed her famous friends into participating in a three-day tennis tournament in Macon to benefit the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia.

Five Star Mazda became a major sponsor in 1991, adding its name to the tournament, and Kevin Brown added the star studded cache of major league baseball when he came aboard in 1992, the same year golf was added to the schedule of events. As his reputation grew, his name was added to the title of the event, joined in 2015 by PGA golfer Russell Henley. It is now the Kevin Brown & Russell Henley Five Star Celebrity Classic.

In 1989, Kaplan was energized by the net of $23,000 for a first-year tournament. This year’s proceeds, almost a half million dollars, brought the 28 year total to more than 5 million. There have been changes to the make-up of the two day celebration. The increased popularity of the four-man scramble format requires the use of all three of the major golf courses in Macon; the Macon Volunteer Clinic and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have been added to the beneficiaries of the event and a clay shoot kicked off the tournament this year, on Sept. 26, at the Ocmulgee River Gun Club.

That Monday night the live and silent auctions were held at Idle Hour Country Club, but not before Charlie Cantrell, chairman of the board of the Rescue Mission, made his impassioned speech to the audience for a “call to action,” which, in less than an hour, raised Kaplan’s goal of $200,000 from the audience, with the promise of matching funds from Cantrell.


Before the live auction, Kaplan, the staff of the Rescue Mission and the volunteers — who all work tirelessly to plan and execute the two-day event — were recognized by Cantrell. The highlight of the evening was a speech by a graduate of the Rescue Mission’s program for completing a GED and for training for employment.

Due to the effects of the radiation therapy he is receiving for cancer, the Rescue Mission graduate could not speak, but had prepared his message to be read by a friend. Hearing the story of his path from despair to planning for a successful future, despite enduring treatment for an unplanned disease, caught the attention of the noisy audience — you could have heard a pin drop in Idle Hour’s ballroom before the crowd erupted into applause.

While the Rescue Mission addresses the crises in the lives of its clients and taps into resources to bring normalcy out of chaos, the Macon Volunteer Clinic is serving the medical needs of those clients who are employed and who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The clinic also offers dental care through local dentists who are donating preventive and restorative procedures to its patients.

Testimonials from clients who have gained a smile and a healthy dose of self-confidence are posted in advertisements for the Rescue Mission and on social media.


In the silent auction, there was signed memorabilia from baseball stars like John Smoltz and John Schuerholz; the autographed pin flag from Davis Love’s 2012 Ryder Cup team and a signed poster from country crooner Alan Jackson among the numerous collectibles for the sports fan or art collector.

Landscape paintings of a field of cornflowers by Daly Smith and of a Sea Island beach scene by Joy Lynn Stanley were part of the eclectic array of auction items. Designer handbags from Michael Kors, aesthetic facial procedures and exotic getaways made the auction as exciting for the women as for the men, who clamored for tickets to play-off games or for hunting trips to some of the finest preserves in the Southeast.


Maggie Renfroe is no stranger to the Idle Hour stage. Last year, she opened for Chuck Leavell, who bragged about her young talent as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist, before we knew she had been selected as a contestant on “The Voice” on NBC. Renfroe did not let the raucous crowd at Idle Hour disturb her performance last year, and, like the seasoned performer she can be, she returned to Macon to sing and play for the Five Star Celebrity Classic auction night, on the heels of losing a chance to compete in the popular singing competition.

The judges’ chairs may not have turned that night for Renfroe, but, for those fans who have heard her sing “Hallelujah,” as she did the night of the auction, the proof is there — we will see Maggie Renfroe’s name in lights one day.


There was an error in last week’s column. The state capital in Milledgeville was the first planned capital of Georgia. Many of you wrote to correct me that it was not the first, but the fourth state capitol, but it actually was the first planned capital.

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or