The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 17, 2014

Former Gov. Caperton to appear at July 31 dinner to boost fundraiser

Even chiefs of state can’t resist the allure of Dancing with the Stars, the annual fundraiser by United Way of Southern West Virginia, nor the draw of lively conversation over a gourmet dinner and glass of wine.

Former West Virginia governor Gaston Caperton III, a nationally recognized expert on education, will be at The Dish Cafe in Daniels July 31 for “Gaston Caperton: Dinner with the Stars.”

The stars are Dish Cafe co-owner Michelle Rotellini and Austin Caperton, CEO of Caperton Inc., who is also the first cousin of the former governor.

Rotellini and Austin Caperton are paired up for the “Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser in September, and they’re hosting “Dinner with the Stars” to raise money for United Way.

The Thursday event will feature a dinner of fresh and locally grown dishes and wine. Diners will have an opportunity to ask the former governor questions about education in the United States.

Austin Caperton said his famous cousin — who taught at Harvard and Columbia universities and has served as the president of the College Board (the organization that administers the SAT) since leaving state politics — is “the real star” of “Dinner with the Stars.”

“The ‘Dinner with the Stars’ was my idea, but Michelle and I have brainstormed together on a lot of things and created a lot of things,” said Austin. “We thought it would be nice, because of my connection with the governor, for him to be able to come and talk to people who would be interested in it.”

In May, the couple performed a “debut” salsa dance and hosted celebrity chef Sawsan Galal of the local five-star Ambrosia Inn at The Dish to raise money.

Hosting the former governor may seem more “serious” than most of the pair’s fundraising events, but Caperton said it’s a great opportunity for Beckleyans who are interested in education or just politics and history buffs to come to The Dish and spend an evening talking with Gaston Caperton about education.

Rotellini and Austin were both “talked into” the fundraiser by United Way of Southern West Virginia Executive Director Margaret O’Neal.

Rotellini told The Register-Herald in May that she at first protested, but O’Neal got her on board.

For his part, Austin — a lifelong athlete who enjoys golf, basketball, tennis and cycling — had said “no” to trying his hand at dancing, months before O’Neal had even asked him to do it, he reported.

After watching his fellow Beckleyans give impressive performances at the 2013 DWTS, Caperton told Brenda, his wife, “If Margaret Ann ever asks me, the answer is no!”

Like the plans of other great men throughout history, however, Caperton’s soon changed.

“Have you ever tried to say no to Margaret Ann?” he asked. “It’s impossible.

“She’s dedicated and hard-working, and you just can’t say no.”

So Austin teamed up with Rotellini, and the two are currently preparing for their September performance at the 2014 DWTS.

“What I will say about it, it’s been more fun that I’ve ever imagined it would’ve been,” said Caperton. “Michelle and I work together wonderfully well.

“We have a wonderful choreographer, Julie Blankenship. She’s done a superb job of determining our skill level and matching our dance to our skill level, whatever that may be.”

Austin said that asking the 31st governor to help with fundraising was natural since he has acted as a “big brother” figure since childhood.

“He didn’t have any brothers, and I didn’t have any older brothers, so we’ve kind of bonded,” he explained.

He said the former governor is pleased to come back to southern West Virginia for the dinner.

“He said, ‘Absolutely, I’ll do whatever I can for you,’” reported Caperton. “He’s always been very supportive of family.

“Gaston is basically a person who is family first, community second and probably education third and business fourth.

“This dinner is family doing something good for the community, and he gets to talk about something he loves most, so the top three things in his life fit right into the program.”

The theme of Dinner with the Stars will be “Education is the Future.”

Tickets are $100 per person for wine and dinner and are available at The Dish Cafe or by contacting Caperton at or Rotellini at michelle@

The event begins at 6:30 p.m., and a cash bar is available.

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