Marie Bogdonoff and Jim “Z-Man” Zurak paused their holiday plans Saturday and did what they do best: helped others.
She’s getting ready for a trip to Washington D.C. to visit hospitalized veterans. He’s about to celebrate his 62nd wedding anniversary.
All that will have to wait because Saturday these two dynamic Villagers joined forces for a musical gala with a glittering array of local talent in Savannah Center.
And it all benefitted veterans thanks to Bogdonoff and Zurak. Money raised from the event went to Villagers For Veterans.
Bogdonoff founded that organization nearly a decade ago. It has earned national acclaim, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and aiding hundreds of veterans.
“Jim really deserves all the credit for coming up with this show and putting it together,” Bogdonoff said. “He worked so hard to make it happen.”
It all started one afternoon in a Villages’ restaurant.
“We met in The Villages and over lunch, I asked him: Why don’t we do a show for veterans. Next thing I know, Jim’s putting everything together and here we are.”
Zurak — who has long produced charity shows for local student scholarships and other causes – was proud to be a part of it.
“We’re here this evening to honor the men and women of the Armed Forces,” he said. “Our veterans are special, and so is Marie. She is determined to help all veterans who are suffering.”
The show was dubbed “Villagers For Veterans Presents Angel Wings.” Zurak said he was “just happy to bring so much of the incredible talent in The Villages to this stage.”
The Evolution Dance company kicked things off with a spirited number, “I Remember Yesterday.”
Mark Steven Schmidt offered a rousing demonstration of the power of music and opera throughout the evening.
The Schmidt setlist included a song from “Pagliacci,” along with “Music of the Night,” “Nessun Dorma,” and “Bring Him Home.” To top it off, he waltzed around the stage with his wife, Dr. Linda Succi, to the song “Can I Have This Dance.”
Pinky Bigley, known for her work in local musicals, also had a busy night. She soloed on “Memory” and “Al Di La.” Bigley teamed with Lee Mueller on “The Prayer” and “Time To Say Goodbye.” Mueller also did a spirited solo on “The Impossible Dream.”
Zurak wanted the show to offer something for every musical taste. Doug Skinner and J Alan Six teamed up for the country sounds of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.”
The Doo Wop group Forever Young, offered a stirring version of the Platters’ “My Prayer” and also had the crowd on its feet for “God Bless the USA.”
Janet Maloney brought a sassy take on “Love Me or Leave Me.”
Rebecca Whitman Townley and Kathleen Hannibal both impressed with their vocals.
Hannibal showed tenderness and emotion singing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh My Dear Papa).” She touched the audience in a special way and received a loud ovation.
The show may be over, but Bogdonoff and Zurak will be busy in the coming days.
“After Thanksgiving, I will be flying for my annual trip to Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center) in Washington,” Bogdonoff said. It was there in 2014, after meeting with wounded veterans, she got the inspiration to start Villagers For Veterans. “It’s a special place, with special people,” she said.
As for the Z-Man, next week he and his “lovely bride” Nancy, will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary. He reminisced about coming to her home in Buffalo N.Y. while on leave from the Air Force.
“It was 1951 and it was cold in Buffalo,” Zurak said. “At first, my father-in-law wasn’t sure about his beautiful Italian daughter marrying a Polish guy in the Air Force.”
But as the Z-Man likes to say, it all worked out and “my father-in-law was happy.”
Tony Violanti covers music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.