It started out innocently enough when a friend asked for help organizing Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation's annual Valentine Ball. Happy to pitch in, Mary Lee Grove signed up as a volunteer.
"I had been an interior designer in Atlanta for 25 years, so I joined the decorating committee," Grove said. "It was so much fun working with the people at the foundation, the following year I volunteered to help with invitations."
Over time, she became more involved with the fundraiser, leading several committees. This year, she was asked to head up the entire affair.
"I've never been so busy since I moved to Beaufort," said Grove, a resident of the city since 2002. "But the hospital is a very worthy cause."
Grove and her husband, George, are co-chairmen of the 2013 Valentine Ball with hospital president and CEO Rick Toomey and his wife, Dr. Linda Hawes.
"It's by far the best fundraiser I've ever been to," said Hawes, who has attended the ball every year since moving to Beaufort in 2008. "We were flattered to be asked, but we're newbies at this thing, so we're getting a lot of help."
The foundation's biggest fundraiser of the year, the Feb. 9 black-tie gala is expected to draw as many as 800 guests. What distinguishes the event from so many other fundraisers is the pre-ball dinner parties. Prepared and paid for by the hosts, the dinners cut down on the cost of putting on the fundraiser, leaving more of the proceeds for the foundation.
"It's an intimate setting where you can get to know people before going to the ball," said Grove, who has hosted dinners in past years. "It's a lovely way to start the evening."
About 9 p.m., the dinner parties break up and guests make their way to the historic Lyceum on Parris Island for dancing, dessert and a silent auction. This year's theme is "Evening under the Stars".
Since its inception in 1990, the Valentine Ball has raised more than $3.7 million for the hospital. The money has helped pay for upgrades to the hospital's facilities, technology and services. This year's proceeds will go to the LifeFit Wellness Center.
"Having a high-quality hospital is very important to our community," George Grove said. "Since we moved here 10 years ago, we've seen so many improvements, including the addition of the Keyserling Cancer Center."