Displayed is a photo of “The Gov”, The Gov is a part of the auction package at the 2023 Candlelight Ball. Photo provided by Tonya Leszczak, Senior Director of University Events & Engagement.

Austin Peay State University celebrates the 39th Anniversary of the Annual Candlelight Ball on May 6 at Omni Nashville Hotel, located at 250 Rep. John Lewis Way S. in Nashville, as it aims to bring new traditions and surprises to the event.

The Candlelight Ball is an APSU tradition established in 1984 and founded by the late Brig. Gen. Wendell H. Gilbert as the event raises scholarship money for students. Gilbert served as Austin Peay’s Vice President for Development and University Relations for 17 years.

Senior Director of University Events & Engagement, Tonya Leszczak commented on what the Ball’s meaning, saying, “Over time, underwriters and guests have aided in scholarships and funding for renovations to the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill and resources for the APSU Center for Teaching and Learning. We are proud that this event offers a meaningful way for community members to give back to APSU, while also helping students achieve their goals and enhancing the Austin Peay Experience for our entire campus community.”

Through the event, the Candlelight Ball Scholarship Endowment was created, though this year a new change is coming.

“However, for this year’s event, we will include a live auction package for each campus college and University areas to benefit the individual needs of their students, which allows us to create an opportunity to support even more scholarships and funds,” said Leszczak.

Another improvement in gathering funds, guests will be able to make donations in real-time to any area of their choosing.

This year’s event will also include what is known as “The Gov”, a 3-D printed bust created by Austin Peay’s GIS Center.

” As this year’s event will feature a live auction for several areas to support all of the university, The Gov is the live auction that will still support the Candlelight Ball Scholarship Endowment. Both a large and small version of a bust depicting the APSU mascot, “The Gov” were created.”

The smaller bust will be given to the auction winner each year, while their support will be engraved on the large bust that will be displayed on Austin Peay’s campus in the Browning Building.

“The small version of “The Gov” bust will be available for auction for the first time at the 39th Annual Candlelight Ball. By bidding on this one-of-a-kind item, guests will be supporting student scholarships through the Candlelight Ball Scholarship Endowment. Only one small bust will be made each year, and the unique opportunity of bidding on The Gov is only the beginning. More APSU traditions tied to “The Gov” busts and the Candlelight Ball will be announced at the event,” said Leszczak.

Many members have served on the Candlelight Ball Comittee, following in the foundation and groundwork set about by General Wendell Gilbert. To honor the people who served on the committee, their names can be seen engraved in the large bust of “The Gov”.

Leszczak comments on what students can expect seeing this large version of “The Gov” in the engraving, ” The engraving on the front of the large version of “The Gov” bust reads:

“This bust of APSU’s Governor honors the chairs and key supporters of Austin Peay’s Candlelight Ball. Established in 1984 by Brig. Gen. (Ret) Wendell H. Gilbert, we thank these individuals for providing tremendous experiences and opportunities for Austin Peay students.”

All money being raised with this event goes to scholarships and funds, these scholarships are not given out at the event itself, though this event does provide support for the Govs of the future.

The recipients of the Wendell H. Gilbert Award are alumni, Dr. Joe Greer and Estella Mayhue-Greer.

Leszczak gave insight on what that award is saying, ” The Wendell H. Gilbert Award, named in honor of the founder and inspiration behind the original Candlelight Ball.  Wendell H. Gilbert is a retired Army brigadier general and graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and George Washington University. He served as APSU’s Vice President for Development and University Relations for 17 years. Among his many accomplishments, he was named Emeritus and was given the Distinguished Achievement Award, APSU’s highest honor. He has served with the Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Clarksville, and the AUSA National Resolutions Committee. In 2002, he was named deputy to the governor for homeland security and was appointed as former Gov. Don Sundquist’s chief of staff. This award is presented to an individual who has significantly contributed to Austin Peay State University by sustained service, has made a significant contribution to the University, or has brought recognition to the University by his or her success. The honoree is committed to the advancement of scholarships for students and exemplifies excellence and integrity with inspiring others by his/her accomplishments.”

The second award being given is the Spirit of Austin Peay award which will be accepted by retired Master Sergeant Larry Goolsby and Barbara Goolsby.

Leszczak commented, ” The Spirit of Austin Peay Award recognizes a supporter whose accomplishments reflect the spirit, vitality, and high standards of Austin Peay State University. By their loyalty and service to APSU, a professional initiative by demonstrating the value of education as sound preparation for the challenges they have encountered along their career path, their commitment to philanthropic activities, and involvement in professional, community, or service organizations. The honoree exemplifies excellence and integrity with inspiring others by his/her accomplishments. Nominees for both of these awards occur each Spring semester, usually March-May 31. Our Candlelight Ball Awards Selection Committee reviews all nominations in June and selects the candidates for next year’s event. These selections are then sent to the APSU President for approval.”

These new traditions are only the beginning of what will be held at future Candlelight Balls.