A sold-out crowd of some 200 friends, colleagues and admirers of longtime public relations man Gary Schweikhart packed the Arts Garage in Delray Beach last Sunday with folks offering prayers, good will and a quick recovery to the PR professional nearly killed when a speeding car crashed into his house and pinned him under the vehicle.
Gary suffered life-threatening injuries July 11 and was rushed to Delray Beach Medical Center for surgery after being extricated from beneath the wrecked Audi. After spending several days in the intensive care unit and two weeks in Pinecrest Rehab Center, he is now recovering.
Hosted by the Arts Garage in Delray Beach under President and CEO Marjorie Waldo, and friends/colleagues of Gary Schweikhart, the event raised funds for his recovery following the crash which sent him to the ICU and follow-up hospitalization for nearly four weeks.
Actually, it was Gary Schweikhart himself who stepped to the stage to open the nearly two-hour production Sunday. “I was sitting in the house that I built in 1994 when I was working at Home Depot,” he said, recalling the horrific accident.
He said he was doing something he has done repeatedly for decades. “I was writing a press release.”
“A car driving 70 miles an hour in a 30-mph zone went up a short berm, cut down six feet of bushes and crashed into my house. I was pinned under the car.”
Gary Schweikhart addresses the audience at the “I Did Survive” benefit concert at the Arts Garage. (Photo Credit: Jacek Photo)
Showing he has not lost his sense of humor, Gary said that in his 52 years of working in the public relations field, in places like San Francisco, Omaha and Palm Beach County, “I have worked under duress. But this was the first time I ever worked under a speeding Audi.”
On top of the personal difficulties, Gary will be without his home for likely another nine months as he rebuilds from the extensive damage.
During his talk to those attending, he didn’t stray from offering dark humor. About a week before the accident, Gary became president of the Carbonell Awards – honors presented for exceptional performance in the theatrical field. To mark the occasion, he decided to see a photographer and get an updated photo.
“I told him: Make me look younger and thinner. This is probably going to be my obit picture.” It wasn’t, he said with no small measure of relief. But it was very close.
Before musical performers began their songs and tributes, Gary offered sincere thanks to the many people who have come to his aid. The list included his neighbor, Dahlia, who called 911 to get medical aid. He praised the work of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, Delray Medical and Pine Crest Rehab. “I am here because of each of them.”
Dipping again into humor, he told how “the gallons of matzoh ball soup” he received during his convalescence has aided his recovery.
Taking more of a serious tone, he thanked “my personal lifesavers – Rich Pollack, Julie Mullen and Jeanne Epstein.” He also listed “my PR friends,” a roster that included clients, the League of Women Voters, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and the Boca Historical Society Museum, among others.
As he ended his monologue, Gary told the crowd: “You have touched my soul. I did survive.”
For another 90 minutes, Rich and Jill Switzer, Deborah Silver, Anthony Nunziata, Avery Sommers, pianist Phil Hinton and others filled the Delray air with sweet musical tones. Jesse Jones Jr., a renowned saxophonist from Miami and a respected international recording artist, joined the performers.
Also on hand was Frank Derrick, a multifaceted drummer, recording artist, author, and educator. He toured worldwide with Cab Calloway for 10 years and was the drummer for “The David Letterman Show” on NBC. Singer Deborah Silver said Frank created the drum roll for Letterman’s Top 10 List – and she offered a quick Top 5 of things Gary should do to avoid another accident. “Put a speed bump in your living room” and “Replace your doorbell with a stop sign.”
Vocalist Jill Switzer and multi-instrumentalist/composer Rich Switzer added their expertise to the tuneful tidings, but only after calling Gary “a prince among men. It would be a very boring place without him.”
Silver dedicated some special tunes to Gary: “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Wonderful World,” among them. Her son joined her for one song, accompanying his mom on guitar.
By this time, British born pianist, arranger, orchestrator and conductor Phil Hinton took over keyboard duties – as he has done locally and around the world for years.
Anthony Nunziata came to the stage with a strong voice – and a message that he would return to Arts Garage later for a solo performance. He remembered meeting Gary “a dozen years ago while we were performing at the Colony Hotel.”
Anthony Nunziata sings during the “I Did Survive” benefit concert at the Arts Garage. (Photo Credit: Dale King)
Sweeping in songs from Broadway and beyond, Nanziata vocalized “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” and “The Prayer.” His beautiful rendition of “O Solo Mio” came through as an ode to his own Italian ancestry.
While singing “The Prayer,” he amended the lyrics for Gary, saying, “We give you faith so you’ll be safe.” He concluded by saying: “Gary, we continue to pray for your recovery.”
Rounding out the program was Broadway and local performer Avery Sommers, whose talent has shone in critically acclaimed musicals such as Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Nell Carter) and Showboat (Queenie). She was also part of two national tours: Chicago (Matron Mama Morton) with Joel Grey and Chita Rivera and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (The Role of Jewel) with Ann Margret
Before she reached the stage, Gary described the famous musical lady as “the closest thing to an angel.”
A half-dozen songs later, Avery called everyone to the stage to sing “Happy Birthday” to Gary – marking an event that took place the following day.
“Gary, we love you,” Avery said. “He’s our sweetheart. So, we all gather here tonight to pay tribute to him.”
With everyone on stage, the troupe burst out with an obvious concluding melody, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
From left, Rick Pollack, Gary Schweikhart and Julie Mullen at the “I Did Survive” benefit concert at the Arts Garage. (Photo Credit: Jacek Photo)