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John Lamb, Published December 26 2009

Lamb: Cherry T Ball takes a bow

In some larger metropolises, formal holiday balls are a big part of the season.

Not quite a formal, the Cherry T Ball has been Fargo-Moorhead’s Midwestern spin on such big-city soirees for a quarter of a century.

But the ball is taking its final bow tonight. After 25 years of organizing it, Cherry-pickers Mike Swanston, Gordy Richardson and Bill Kloubec are walking away from the shindig, citing the desire to do other things around Christmas.

“It just seems like the right time,” says Swanston. “We never meant this to be that big a party. We sold out the first year, and every year it’s basically been sold out.”

If you think Swanston sounds humble, listen to how the party started: One night at Duffy’s Tavern, the Cherry T trio lamented that it was getting harder to hang out with all of their friends during the holidays. So on a bar napkin they plotted out a post-Christmas bash.

The plan was to rent out the Fargo Civic Center, get hip Minneapolis band The Suburbs to play, and host with free wine and flowers.

Like many great ideas hatched on bar napkins, the plans didn’t pan out. Instead they lined up The Phones to play the old Elks Lodge. And while the flowers came through, and have every year since, the wine, well, that got a little messy.

“We had free wine that night, but and we don’t do that any more, because that got a little crazy,” recalls Swanston, proud owner of Fargo’s best beard.

And the event’s name? The Elks suggested the dance be a charitable fundraiser, so while the organizers discussed options – again at Duffy’s – someone laughingly suggested the idea of mental health.

Swanston estimates over the past 24 parties the event has raised more than $160,000 for what is now Mental Health America of North Dakota.“Not bad for a silly little party,” he says.

The other staple through the years has been quality entertainment. For what could be its last bash, the ballers are keeping it local with the R&B band Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome, but years past have featured blues and funk from the likes of Ronny Baker Brooks, Sister Monica, Anthony Gomes, Paul Cebar, Big Walter Smith and Greazy Meal.“The last one was always the best one, so we kept doing it,” says Swanston, 54.

And while he’ll dust off his thrift store tux one more time and slide on his bolo tie, he says he’s open to someone else taking over the reigns.

“It’s been so much fun doing it, but I want to do something else,” he says. “I might throw a different party next year. You never know.”

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Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533