Friends 40th Anniversary Benefit Dinner

How the Friends Christmas Benefit Dinner Supports Art Exploration and Our Community

“Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” – Norman Vincent Peale


Madonna and Child, a gift from the Family of Fred B. Snite Jr. Fund

For an organization to be flourishing four decades after its founding and continuing to work to serve the community in positive and impactful ways as originally intended is quite a feat. When the focus of the organization is art exploration, acquisition, and education, those forty years of work and success are an admirable accomplishment indeed.

On the occasion of the 40th Anniversary Christmas Benefit Dinner, which will be held on Thursday, December 2, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on our history and the impact of the Christmas Benefit Dinner on the Friends and on the Museum.

The Museum's Advisory Council decided in the late 1970s that a membership organization of the Museum should be established, for the purpose of supporting the Museum's educational programs, public events, and collecting activities. And so, in the fall of 1979, the Friends of the Snite Museum was founded.

Mary Lou Leighton served as president on the first board. Under her leadership, the group decided which programs the Friends would support and wrote their bylaws with the able advice of Fred Baer, a local lawyer, art collector, and member of our acquisitions committee.

The Friends assumed responsibility for welcoming guests and hosting receptions for exhibition openings and programs, freeing up the Museum staff to attend to other duties. When the Friends took on these roles, it helped the Museum with much-needed support and offered a platform to build awareness of the Museum and its membership organization.

In 1981, just two years after the Friends of the Snite Museum of Art was established, the group hosted the inaugural Friends Annual Christmas Benefit Dinner on the first Thursday of December. Intended to be its signature fundraiser, it is now recognized as the community event that ushers in the holiday season. Pat Decio envisioned an event that included a lavish setting, high fashion, and fine dining. Her husband, Art, built support for the event, managing the guest list and inviting members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and other notable community members.

Father Ted Hesburgh was among the most notable and popular of the guests. He attended the dinner every year to honor those who had been generous to the Museum. Even after he retired in 1987, Father Ted never missed a Christmas Benefit, and the guests eagerly anticipated his joyous arrival each year. This annual event averages 250 enthusiastic and supportive attendees who make a sparkling night of it—cherishing old friends and making new ones, all in the name of advocating for and valuing access, and in an exquisite holiday setting.

The benefits initially took place in the Snite Museum in galleries transformed by the Friends and staff for the gala event. In 2001 when Chuck Loving became the Museum director, he moved the benefit venue offsite to better protect the art and offer more convenient parking options for guests. Benefits have been held under the Golden Dome in 2002 and 2003; DeBartolo Performing Arts Center from 2004–2014; Morris Inn in 2015 and 2016; and most recently at the Palais Royale.

Funds raised through the Christmas Benefit have supported the Museum two-fold. In the early years, proceeds were used to build the Museum’s collection. Curators proposed works for purchase consideration and allowed members to vote on their favorite object. About 70 works were acquired in this way between 1981 and 2000 of which some are available to view at this online gallery. With their imprint firmly placed on the collection, the Friends then shifted its focus to supporting the Museum’s education programs that touch the lives of our region’s children and adults through school tours, family days, and other activities.

The Christmas Benefit offers the Museum and Friends an opportunity to honor the people who have a significant impact on our community through the visual arts. This year the honorees of the Benefit Dinner are all previous honorees over the event’s forty-year history. The chairs of the 2021 Christmas Benefit Dinner are Dru Cash and Maura Ratigan, and they have set in motion very special plans!

We hope you will consider joining us for this momentous 2021 Benefit Dinner. The deadline to register is October 31, 2021.

Friends of the Snite 40th Anniversary Christmas Benefit Dinner

Celebrating Our Past, Embracing Our Future

December 2, 2021

Palais Royale Ballroom, 105 W Colfax Street, South Bend, IN

Cocktails at 6:00 pm

Program at 7:00 pm

Dinner served at 7:30 pm


Black tie requested

Complimentary Valet Parking Service

Reservation Options:

Single Dinner Reservation: $250

Non-deductible meal cost is $60 per person. A tax statement will be mailed for your donation.

For any questions, call the Friend's Office at 574-631-5516.

Visit our marketplace at to purchase by credit card from many options: single reservation, patron levels, or donations only. This important annual fundraiser compiles over half of what we raise and is needed to subsidize the Museum’s art education programs.

Juliane Kristine Morris

Friends Board Member