Be careful when you call Gail Van Ormer. Be very, very careful. Otherwise, you might find yourself “volunteering” for a part in the Hospice of Southern Illinois Red Carpet Gala. At the gala each year, area celebrities, politicos, community members and even those who write about leaders like Van Ormer are in danger of being “talked into” and “convinced” to share their talents as performers in a musical review and show that raises money for the charity.
Just talking with Van Ormer causes you to want to be involved. Her love of performing and for the Southern Illinois region is contagious. You cannot help but say yes.
The gala and other causes she believes in are the perfect outlets for her talents. Not only does she recruit most of the performers, she also serves as the creator, director, choreographer and general expert of the gala, drawing from years of performing herself.
“I’ve always been on stage,” she says. “As a child I loved to sing and perform, and it has become second nature. My friends always say I have no stage fright. I’ve been doing it for so long, I just go out and do what I do and hope people like it.”
She’s been doing it since the third grade, when she was Alice Blue Gown in a performance of the Broadway musical “Irene.”
“I wore a blue paper dress, and I can still remember the feeling when everyone in the audience applauded. I loved it and thought it was the most wonderful thing.”
Over the years, Van Ormer, who worked professionally in sales and public relations, organized community theater performances, shows and reviews across the nation — wherever she and husband Don found themselves. Once the Johnston City native returned to Southern Illinois, things fell into place for her current productions.
“My daughter in-law, when she was dating my son, worked at hospice and said they were looking to do some sort of big event. My son told her she needed to talk to me,” she recalls. “We planned the first gala, and it was a success. The second one was even larger, and it was over the top. The response we’re getting from the community is heart-warming and unexpected.”
So are the performances at the gala. From Southern Illinois mayors impersonating television personalities to dancing athletes and more, the event is full of surprises.
“I direct the show and especially work with those who have never been on stage before to make sure they know how to do it, and that’s part of the draw” she explains. “It’s just fun. These performers are people doing things that their family and friends never dreamed that they would do. It works here because everyone knows everyone.”
She says it works, too, because of the charitable nature of the event. All of the money raised supports activities of Hospice of Southern Illinois.
“When I found out that it all stays here in Southern Illinois, I knew this was for me,” she adds. “The dedication of the people at Hospice is off the charts. They walk into situations that I don’t think I could. Their dedication, support and help is wonderful.”
Van Ormer says planning for the next gala begins only a week or two after the closing of the latest one.
“I work a little bit every week of the year,” she says. “In September, it starts getting intense, and we begin practices in October for a January show.”
Even though she doesn’t track how much time goes into each gala, she says it doesn’t matter.
“I don’t know how many hours it takes, but I don’t mind. I do this because I want to and have met a lot of really nice people.”
Just don’t be too nice to her. Or you might end up in next year’s show. Trust me on this.