Dinner celebrates best of Wes

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

How do you replace the late Wes Montgomery as emcee of the Edmonton Eskimos annual dinner?

"It's difficult to imagine our dinner without Wes," says Rick LeLacheur, the Eskimos' Chief Operating Officer.

Next year, that's going to be a real problem.

This year it's no problem at all.

"A big part of the dinner will be to acknowledge the role of Wes at Eskimo Dinners over the years."

A major component will be highlights of the radio morning man and sportscaster who many believe to be the greatest dinner emcee in Canadian sports history. The Eskimos are also preparing a gift for everybody in attendance, a 'Best Of Wes' CD.

"Right now we're looking at using a number of emcees," said LeLacheur of the dinner which board of director Doug Goss is chairing this year.

"It didn't matter whether we had a guest speaker or a Wall of Honour Inductee, Wes was always a big part of the program.

"More often than not he stole the show.

"Now, we have to find somebody to take shots a Bryan Hall.

"I'm sure if Wes was still with us, he'd have a lot of fun at this year's dinner with Norm Kwong being lieutenant-governor."

It's also a slam dunk that Wes will join Norm Kimball, Hugh Campbell, Jim Hole, Joe Healy and Bryan Hall as a recipient of the special 'Eskimos Contributor Award'.

The three-quarters sold out Oct. 25 dinner at the Northlands AgriCom will also honour Rod Connop, who will enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next weekend, as the latest Eskimo great to go on the wall.

Connop's name and number will be unveiled at the Oct. 28 game, when the B.C. Lions return to town.

The dinner has evolved over the years. In the beginning, it was a $100-a-plate affair and many seasons provided the difference between the community-owned team making a profit and recording a loss.

"It's been various things over the years since," said LeLacheur. "It went from being a lifesaver to the funding of our original rainy-day or stabilization fund.

"Now it's more a foundation to the community arm of the club. We're now using the dinner to support things in the community," said LeLacheur.

A $50,000 contribution to the sports wall of Sir Winston Churchill Park and the same amount toward the funding of an upgrade to Giovanni Caboto Park. The Eskimos decided to become involved because Caboto Park is in the Commonwealth Stadium neighborhood or as LeLacheur phrases it "our community."

The dinner has also evolved in other directions.

"Over the years it has become one of the best business networking dinner in Edmonton," says the COO.

It's also grown in size.

It had a stretch in the Edmonton Inn, moved to the Westin Hotel, the Shaw Centre and the AgriCom.

"At the Westin we had seating for about 600. In the last two years we've been over 1,000," said LeLacheur.

There were days when the idea was to make it a night-long party. Today the idea is to not have it go past 10 p.m.

"A lot of businesses use it now and the people who are attending are not drinking as much. What they want is a good social hour, a good meal, a good program and to get out of there at a reasonably early time."

There have been a couple which were spectacular duds (ones featuring Al Shaver and Dave Broadfoot) that they had an "I was there" quality as well.

But most of the dinners have been outstanding and Wes Montgomery had a great deal to do with making them that way. 'The Best Of Wes' will make this one an all-timer. But next year ...

Wes Montgomery, as many speakers have found out at the dinner over the years, is a hard act to follow.


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