Coroner’s Ball: This year’s party to die for |

Coroner’s Ball: This year’s party to die for

Summit Daily/Reid Williams Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson is preparing for her first Coroner's Ball, a Halloween party and benefit inviting the public to come as their favorite dead celebrity. Richardson will be in costume as Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas.

BRECKENRIDGE – This year Joanne Richardson, the county coroner, is throwing a party to die for.In the spirit of Halloween and Day of the Dead, two holidays honoring the deceased, Richardson plans to raise money for a burial fund to benefit Summit County families who can’t afford to bury their deceased. She’s throwing a Coroner’s Ball on Friday, Oct. 29, at the Silverthorne Pavilion.”It’s a unique idea that none of the other coroners have done,” Richardson said. “People don’t equate my office with goodness; I’m the bearer of bad news, and it gets kind of depressing. I look at this as ‘What the heck can the coroner do?’ People always say, ‘I don’t want to meet you.’ I think this ball is going to be a fun way to give back to the community.”Since January, Social Services has received eight calls from local families looking for burial assistance, but it has been unable to help because it can only use its burial funds for unidentified persons or persons without families.Families unassisted by Social Services have had to turn to churches, friends, fundraisers or other methods to pay for burial services. But now the office of the coroner is teaming up with the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) to manage money raised at the Coroner’s Ball to assist families who meet certain requirements.Richardson hopes to raise at least $5,000, which would help defray burial expenses for up to five families, she said.

An average burial, with a casket and vault (which protects the casket) costs $2,500 or more, said Justin Stephens, owner of Rocky Mountain Funeral Home. It costs about $10,000 to send a family member home to Mexico for burial, which families often request, Richardson said.Richardson hopes to recoup some of the money from assisted families once they receive insurance money or otherwise regain financial footing.”We’ll ask, but it’s not mandatory,” she said. “We find a lot of people leave town after a death, so I foresee this ball as being a yearly fundraiser.”As a mortician, Stephens gets plenty of invitations to Halloween parties, and this is one he’s more than happy to attend.”It’s the fact that we’re helping the community with something there’s a very real need for, and it’s a need that I see firsthand,” Stephens said. “It concerns me when families come in during a time of bereavement and they have to worry about finances because they just don’t have funds available. This usually happens when the death is sudden -when it’s a car accident or ski accident, it catches people off guard.”One of my funeral service philosophies is that no one should be turned away from having a respectable burial, regardless of financial situations.”

The life of the partyThough costumes are not a requirement to attend the Coroner’s Ball, Richardson encourages guests to dress as a favorite dead celebrity. In addition to Mama Cass with her ham sandwich (aka Richardson), some celebrities to look for will be Mae West, the Lone Ranger, Albert Einstein and eccentric, dead artists. There will, of course, be prizes for best costumes.Disguises, a costume shop on 9797 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood, will donate 10 percent of costume rental fees to the burial fund.Hello Dave, a band from Chicago that opened for Crash Test Dummies last summer at the Lake Dillon Amphitheatre, will rock the ball.A thin ice auction – in which people buy 10 tickets for $10 and increase their chances of their ticket being drawn to win a particular item by the number of tickets they drop into a bowl – offers a night at the Isle of Capri in Blackhawk, a bright smile dental treatment, a 27-inch, flat-screen television, a jewelry certificate, a private pilates lesson and more.Bonnie Norling-Wakeman is painting a mural as a backdrop for photographs, and guests with really morbid senses of humor can jump into a casket while Bloch Photography takes their picture for $5.

Richardson is still looking for sponsors to cover the almost $5,000 cost of the ball. So far, she has covered the band and the food, but she still needs about $1,500-2,000 in sponsorship to cover hor d’oeuvres. Sponsorship levels start at $50.Advanced, single tickets to the ball are $35, and couples are $65. They can be purchased at the Silverthorne Recreation Center or by calling Richardson at (970) 668-2964. Potential sponsors also can call Richardson.”The Coroner’s Ball is such a great idea, because burial services are not something you think about donating to, out of all the charities you give to,” Norling-Wakeman said. “What the coroner is doing is not only thoughtful but also definitely needed. It’s so important because it helps during people’s grieving time.”Joe Wakeman is supporting the cause by buying a table at the ball for contractors who have worked for him in his faux-painting business.”It’s instead of a Christmas party, because there are too many parties around Christmas – plus, this is so different and fun,” Norling-Wakeman said.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at

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