It’s one of the most glamorous annual events on Milwaukee’s LGBT social calendar. But while it’s been held every year since 1989, “the Challenge Party” has attracted little attention outside the community — and only some within.

That’s because it’s been mostly a word-of-mouth, by-invitation-only affair — albeit one that has raised nearly $1.2 million for community causes.

Invitations were set to go out in mid-May for this year’s party June 16. The affair easily meets its target attendance of 125 people. Guests are mainly LGBT professionals and retirees who pay $300–$1,000 per person to rub elbows at a different high-end, private residence each year. Their checks are made directly payable to one of the event’s designated recipients.

This year’s beneficiaries include Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Diverse & Resilient, the UW-Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center and the Holton Street Clinic.

The party will take place at the Wahl Avenue home of Greg and Betsy Myers on the city’s east side.

The event was established by Ed Hashek, Gary Hollander, Terry Hueneke, Dana Levan and Jim Miersma — the original “challengers.”

By 2017, 55 individuals had served as challengers, organizing the party and picking up all costs.

Fortunately for their fellow hosts, perennial challengers Sal Zizzo — owner of The Trysting Place restaurant in Menomonee Falls — and Steph Zilli — a principal with the Zilli Hospitality Group — provide free-flowing liquor and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres at or below cost.

Other 2017 challengers include April Calvert, Chris Chambliss, Sue Haertel, Peter Larson, Dale Leifker, Patrick Mutsune, Wendell Perkins and Emily Phillips.

Last year, the party gained some new visibility with the establishment of a website,

Check it out for more information or to download an RSVP card.


WISN anchor Toya Washington, who emceed the Make a Promise gala, strikes a pose with Courage Award winners Carlton Wilborn, left, and Salim Gauwloos, former Madonna Blond Ambition tour dancers and AIDS advocates.

Make a Promise gala raises over $280,000 for ARCW

The annual Make a Promise gala attracted a crowd of almost 1,000 people. Held in the Wisconsin Center ballroom and surrounding space, the recent event raised more than $281,000 to support the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

The event theme, “Strike A Pose,” was inspired by Madonna’s 1990 video “Vogue” — and presumably by the fact that special guests included Carlton Wilborn and Salim Gauwloos, two of the dancers made famous by Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour that year.

Both long-term survivors with HIV, the pair are national advocates in the fight against AIDS. They received the ARCW Courage Award at the gala.

Michael Bersch, longtime AIDS Walk Wisconsin fundraiser, donor and leader, received the Philanthropy Award.

Gilead Sciences, the first company to offer medication used in PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), received the Leadership Award.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.