Beloit’s Eclipse Center was filled with patriotic regalia and swing-dancing couples Saturday, as hundreds of period-appropriate attendees turned out for the VetsRoll Hangar Dance, one of the organization’s main fundraisers that helps send mass caravans of World War II and Korean era veterans to tour Washington, D.C. each spring.
More than 300 tickets had been pre-sold and the crowd swelled as the evening wore on, said Mark Finnegan, of Finnegan’s RV Center in South Beloit, who, along with his brother, John, began the VetsRoll program in February 2010. Doors opened at 1:30 p.m. and the event wound down around 10 p.m., making for a full-day of throwback fun.
Early on, a 19-piece, all-female big band blasted tunes, while uniformed gentleman twirled polka-dot attired women around the dance floor. A number of historical displays, featuring wartime photographs, firearms and other memorabilia, lined the walls. Several video monitors showed scenes of past VetsRoll expeditions.
A large collection of auction items was well-browsed by the non-dancing crowd. Other attendees conversed at tables, where a catered dinner would be served later on.
Now in its third year, VetsRoll has become bigger and better than organizers ever imagined when first dreaming up the program, Finnegan said. Last year’s Hangar Dance was hosted at Janesville’s Pontiac Convention Center, but the event was moved to the Eclipse Center this time around due to the anticipated crowd, he said.
“We outgrew it — we had to get bigger,” Finnegan said. “This place is going to be rolling tonight.”
VetsRoll relies on the Hangar Dance as one of its key, annual fundraisers, he said. At last year’s Walworth County Fair, the organization raised about $15,000, and Finnegan said he anticipated that number being matched or bested through Saturday’s dance.
Dozens of volunteers and a long list of sponsors, through more than two months of work, helped put on the Hangar Dance, but Finnegan paid extra credit to committee member extraordinaire Julie Spangler.
Ladies Must Swing, of Madison, served as the day’s opening act. Later on, Sarah Gracyalny performed the National Anthem and members of the Rock River Vietnam Veterans performed a living tribute. Dinner was served by Best Events Catering before The Jack Farina Orchestra hit the stage around 7 p.m. and closed out the evening.
Though the event was attended mostly by an older crowd, there were youngsters, too.
Hugh Nielson, 16, and Rachel Hackler, 14, both of Roscoe were drawn to the Hangar Dance because of Hackler’s mother’s occupation — she is a service to the armed forces manager for the American Red Cross Southwestern Region of Wisconsin.
“Red Cross has always been near and dear to my family,” Hackler said, explaining that her mother, working for the Red Cross during the Cold War era, met her father in England, where he was serving a tour of duty with Air Force.
Among the veteran-aged crowd, many came dressed to the nines. Several couples, including Ken Stroud and Dorothy Henderson of Beloit, were especially eye-catching on the dance floor.
“Oh, it’s great,” Stroud said with a smile before heading back for another dance.