On February 17, 1963, a group of eighteen women met in the home of Mary Stanley (Mrs. Dan L.) to discuss plans for a formal benefit ball which would provide additional income for Spiva Art Center. The annual gala would be named “The St. Avips Ball,” Avips being Spiva spelled backwards.
Norma Butterfield, a Joplin artist who played an important role in creating Spiva Art Center, was asked to design the St. Avips insignia.
Mary Stanley was elected general chairman of the original ball committee, which called itself “The Friends of St. Avips.” The other charter members of the organization were: Pat Axelson (Mrs. Robert), Peach Craig (Mrs. Irwin F.), Gene Craig (Mrs. Richard N.), Geneva Easley (Mrs. Harry), Delpha Eberle (Mrs. Jean F.), Harriet Havens (Mrs. C.H., Jr.), Virginia Hickey (Mrs. Larry), Mary Evelyn Ivie (Mrs. John N.), Esther Jones (Mrs. J.T.), Maridan Kassab (Mrs. Anthony R.), Collette Leffen (Mrs. John S.), Frances Miller (Mrs. T.D.), Jeanne Pate (Mrs. H. Preston), Elizabeth Post (Mrs. Winfred L.), Shirley Ramsour (Mrs. Bart J.), Sue Thompson (Mrs. Max E.), Mary Curtis Warten (Mrs. Henry), and Mary Wooldridge (Mrs. Bart F.).
The first St. Avips Ball was held April 16, 1963, in the Joplin Club of the Connor Hotel. Two hundred and twenty guests took part in a grand march to open the festivities, then danced to the music of Russ Carlyle’s orchestra, and dined by candlelight at an elegant midnight supper. A high point of the evening was the presentation of a bracelet charm designed by Norma Butterfield, to Agnes Spiva (Mrs. George A.). The Friends of St. Avips honored Mr. and Mrs. Spiva for their considerable support and financial aid through the years to Spiva Art Center.
The first Ball was so successful that The Friends of St. Avips became a permanent body of volunteer women whose efforts would be devoted to furthering interest in, and giving financial assistance to Spiva Art Center.
In January 1964, the society increased its membership to thirty women, and created a special category for Agnes Spiva as an honorary member of The Friends of St. Avips. In 1970 the society was enlarged again to 35, and in 2002 to the present membership of 40 women.
Through the years the committee has honored members who have made substantial contributions to the cultural life of the community through the arts. In 1966, Dr. and Mrs. Winfred L. Post have presented a special award for outstanding service to Spiva Art Center. In 1968, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Warten were honored with a gift for outstanding service to the community through active participation and leadership in various cultural organizations. In 1981, Mary Stanley Murray (Mrs. John), was honored for her dedication to The Friends of St. Avips as our first chairman as well as her untiring devotion throughout the years. An engraved silver tray was presented to Spiva Art Center in her honor and a small replica was given to Mrs. Murray. A gold charm was presented to Mary Wooldridge (Mrs. Bart F.) in 1983 as a memento of our love and appreciation for her many years of loyal service.
In addition to the annual ball, The friends of St. Avips assist in receptions held at Spiva Art Center and participate in other fundraising events for the art center. Two specimen trees have been donated to the landscaping of the Art Center grounds by the society.
In 1969, The Friends of St. Avips presented a Robert Higgs painting to the permanent collection of Spiva Art Center. In 1973, The Friends of St. Avips contributed $1,000 to The Joplin Council for the Arts-Benton Fund, a city-wide fund drive, which made possible the Thomas Hart Benton mural at the Municipal Building and the Thomas Hart Benton Retrospective Exhibition at Spiva Art Center in honor of Joplin’s centennial. In 1976, The Friends of St. Avips contributed $1,000 to a successful state-wide fund-raising campaign to purchase a collection of 112 George Caleb Bingham Drawings from the St. Louis Mercantile Library for the State of Missouri. In January of 1982, $1,500 was given to the Spiva Art Center to help with the costs of “Benton’s Bentons”, a touring exhibit of the late artist’s work.
Following the first ball, a check for $1,037.17 was presented to the art center from the proceeds of the ball. Each year The Friends of St. Avips has been able to increase its giving, and as of 2018 has presented the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts checks totaling over $1,117,000.
In 1999 an art auction was added to the event, offering original works of area artists, as well as increasing the support The Friends of St. Avips can give to the art center. An underwriting committee was also added to help defray the expenses of the ball.
A traditional gift each year from the committee to the retiring ball chairman is a gold St. Avips charm. At a September luncheon for The Friends of St. Avips in 1973, Agnes Spiva and Mary (Stanley) Murray surprised the group by presenting specially designed gold pins of the St. Avips cherub to every member of the organization. This lovely tradition continues. Members wear their pins to the ball each year.