The Clover Ball: A 30-Year Tradition
"A fairyland with hundreds of pale pink blossoms and twinkling lights,” raved the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in January 1962, describing the transformation of the Hotel Chase’s Khorassan Room for the first Jewish Hospital Auxiliary Clover Ball.
The Clover Ball was originally held as a fundraising event to mark the 10th anniversary of the auxiliary’s reorganization, but a trip through the archives reveals how it went on to become both a Jewish Hospital tradition and a St. Louis tradition for the next thirty years.
In 1962, the Jewish Hospital Auxiliary was a mostly female group that supported The Jewish Hospital of St. Louis through volunteering and fundraising activities. It was the largest hospital auxiliary in Missouri at the time and one of the largest in the country as well.
The Clover Ball on Jan. 20, 1962, bathed the Khorassan Room in pink. Pink tulle clovers topped tables decorated with light pink tablecloths and dark pink ribbons, guests clutched pale pink and gold programs, and a pink gazebo shadowed the orchestra. The color scheme was meant to evoke the pink smocks worn by auxiliary members while volunteering at the hospital. Approximately 1,000 guests danced to the music of Lester Lanin and his Orchestra. Lanin, who had played at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration ball a year earlier, provided what was described as “that famous Lanin beat [containing] waltzes, merengues, cha-chas, and rhumbas, in addition to…sprightly foxtrot tempos.”
While guests were surely drawn to the ball by the opportunity to help the hospital – ticket sales raised funds to complete the adult psychiatry unit at Jewish Hospital – they may also have attended hoping to win one of several lavish attendance prizes. Certain guests left the ball in the early morning hours as the new owners of a 1962 Chevrolet, a mink stole or two tickets for a trip to Paris.
The success of the first Clover Ball as both a fundraiser and a high society event ensured that it would become a recurring fundraiser for Jewish Hospital. In 1967 – the ball was held every five years, to allow time for planning and to build anticipation – Lanin returned to the Khorassan Room, to play on a revolving pink and white gazebo. The following Sunday’s issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided detailed descriptions of the female guests’ outfits. One guest claimed that her black-and-white patterned gown was the same as that worn two months earlier by President Johnson’s daughter to Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball, while another lady guest bucked tradition by wearing “a black and white pants suit with an Alice-in-Wonderland bow atop her long dark hair.”
The end of the 1960s also brought the end of the “pink” theme, with the 1972 ball instead revolving “around classic antiquity, with Ionic pillars, murals, Grecian urns and other artifacts from the Golden Ages.” A 1971 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on the planning of the ball by auxiliary members, though respectful, was slightly more wry in its coverage than the paper had been in past years. The article noted that the ball was so exclusive that even the wife of then St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes was required to specially request a ticket for that year’s ball, having never received one in the past. The article also noted that “theoretically, an affair like the Clover Ball is open to the public, and anyone who is willing to pay $75 for a ticket is free to attend….In practice, however, none of the uninvited and unwashed public ever turns up at the Clover Ball.” Despite this exclusivity, or perhaps because of it, the Clover Ball would remain a fundraising fixture in St. Louis for the next 20 years.
Fifteen years after the first Clover Ball it remained “a major fund-raising event designed to elicit community support for the hospital and to offer an evening of elegance and fun.” The 75th “diamond” anniversary of Jewish Hospital coincided with the year of the fourth Clover Ball. To reflect this, the ball’s theme in 1977 was “Diamonds in the Clover.” In true 1970s fashion, mirrored globes hung from the ballroom ceiling. The walls were “draped with silver lamé” and the tables were “bedecked with a frosted silver tree complete with birds’ nest.” A massive diamond rotated over the bandstand, and a lucky guest left with an attendance prize of a ring of diamonds framed in gold.
In contrast to the 1970s diamond sheen, the 1982 Clover Ball drew inspiration from nature, with the décor creating “an aura of an early morning forest and casting a cool, spring-like fresh air...throughout the room.” Society bandleader Peter Duchin provided the musical accompaniment. In 1987, guests of previous Clover Balls arrived at a new location, the St. Louis Ballroom at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, and dined on “soufflé glacé Cloverball,” a frozen Amaretto ice cream soufflé served with a chocolate-dipped, clover-shaped cookie. By then the guest count had increased to 1,500.
The Clover Ball gift was a tradition dating to the first Clover Ball, and prior to the evening of the 1987 ball, all 1,500 guests received an engraved glass clover. Auxiliary members hand-wrapped and delivered the gifts, with the nature of the gifts kept strictly secret. In 1967, an auxiliary member, when asked about the gifts, quipped that the souvenirs were “appropriate and elegant...and also a surprise!” Other gifts given over the years included a “delightful Germaine Monteil bath duet, handsomely packaged in a satiny white box” which female guests received in 1962 in addition to their surprise gifts.
The final Clover Ball took place on Oct. 24, 1992, a few years prior to the official merger of Barnes and Jewish hospitals in 1996. Appropriately, the theme of the last Clover Ball was “A Focus on the Future,” which was reflected in the evening’s futuristic décor. Clover Ball guests celebrated the 90th anniversary of Jewish Hospital and the 40th anniversary of its auxiliary. Over the past 30 years, the auxiliary’s Clover Balls had raised funds to gift to Jewish Hospital the facilities for an adult psychiatry unit, equipment for a medical intensive care unit, an observation unit in the emergency room, an EMI computerized axial tomographic scanner, cardiology equipment and a renal dialysis unit.
Today, 25 years after the last ball was held, and 21 years after Jewish Hospital became Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the auxiliary’s Clover Balls are remembered for their elegance, their exclusivity and their generosity. They served to celebrate and highlight the “spirited enthusiasm, unwavering dedication, unlimited creativity, and the unswerving loyalty” of the members of the Jewish Hospital Auxiliary and its members.
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