Vail’s Hostess with the Mostest
VAIL, Colorado – When in doubt, go feathers. That’s just one of the “go big” rules Kathie McNeill, Larkspur hostess and mother of three, lives by. McNeill suffered a brain aneurysm in July and was airlifted to Denver for multiple surgeries. She’s back in the valley and, with time, is expected to make a full recovery. Her friends and coworkers are hosting the Gold and Glam Gala at Larkspur on Saturday to help raise funds for her medical bills.
“She has worn so many hats at Larkspur in her 10 years with us,” said Sue Barham, director of marketing and public relations at the restaurant. “Most people know her as the Hostess with the Mostest, but behind the scenes she is director of arts and crafts, prop department organizer, director of holiday decor, inventory management of light bulbs and several other unglamorous titles. Most recently she became known as Farmers’ Market Social Butterfly. We certainly miss her in all her roles and are pulling for her speedy recovery.”
The party will be the sort of to-do the red-headed tour de force would approve of – in fact, she will be holding court on a golden throne for some portion of the event, though for how long depends on how she’s feeling.
“It’s going to be hard to keep her in that chair,” mused Alisa Steinberg, director of special events at the restaurant.
The event will include passed hors d’oeuvres, food stations, music and dancing. There will also be hourly raffles and a silent auction.
“The theme, gold and glam, is totally Kathie,” Steinberg said. “She’s always glamming it up. She loves dress up.”
McNeill’s fan club extends beyond the people with whom she works.
“Kathie is the most amazing and creative person I have ever met,” said Anne Hilb, a friend of 20 years. “She’s always excited to try something new. If she gets bored with the same old thing she will change it. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she will figure it out. Kathie never backs down from a challenge.”
She’s had a varied career path over the years – part of her bid to keep her life interesting. In addition to working at Vail Resorts, she also owned both a flower shop and The Carrot Top at the Cascade Club, which served comfort food, muffins and smoothies.
Over the course of the past two decades, Hilb has seen McNeill step into the roles of mother, friend, caregiver, chef, baker, gardener, florist, artist, potter, seamstress, dancer and fashionista. She also credits McNeill with forcing her to “jump into everything.”
“Any time we put on a costume is a fun time with Kathie,” Hilb said. “No special holiday needed.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate a good holiday.
“Kathie loves Halloween,” said Gaye Steinke, another friend and the director of Allegria Spa in Beaver Creek. “Vail didn’t offer a big enough stage for her, so now she celebrates it in Cabo San Lucas with friends and family. She turns Cabo upside down with her rock star impersonations.”
Music and dancing will figure largely during the Gold and Glam Gala. Larkspur sous chef Robert Kennon is known at the restaurant as DJ Olive Oil. From where he stands on the line, prepping items for that evening’s dinner, he has a clear view of the host stand – and McNeill. He’s always playing music that will make her dance while she’s at the host stand, sorting out who’s coming in for dinner, where they’ll sit and other nightly details.
“I can see what kind of mood she’s in,” Kennon said. “She likes a wide range of music, from hip-hop to funk.”
And disco. And classic ’80s tunes. And, well, anything a body can move to.
“She’s got a heart of gold and she’s always the life of the party,” Steinke said. “She’s a gourmet cook – there’s nothing she loves better than to cook for a large dinner party. She hosts Christmas Eve dinner each year for a large group of friends and she takes in folks who have nowhere to celebrate the holidays.”
She doesn’t reserve her affection for only her own children.
“Kathie loves children – her own and everyone else’s,” Steinke said. “They love her right back. She calls herself ‘Second Mom’ to dozens of Vail Valley youth.”
Kenya Cope is another of McNeill’s long-time friends (and occasional partner in crime.)
“Kath called me when she was in the emergency room after being informed she had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm,” Cope recalled. “After I ceased hyperventilating Kath laughed and suggested I take my son Simon, age 3 and her devoted pal, out into the street so he could watch her lift off.”
Upon that lift off, McNeill’s prognosis seemed dire. But over the past few weeks Larkspur’s spunky vixen has proven that the will to live – and live large – can help a person beat the odds.
For more information on the Gold and Glam Gala for Kathie McNeill call 970-748-8050. Those wishing to donate without attending the event can contribute to the First Bank Kathie McNeill Fund.