A highly anticipated sample sale of high-end shoes in Bantam raised nearly $200,000 for scholarships for UConn animal science students.
Fashionistas lined up two hours before the sale started in a line that circled around the Bantam Fire House Saturday morning, August 15. Over the course of the day, about 1,000 shoppers flocked to the rural borough to scoop up strappy metallic stilettos, blue satin pumps with crystal buckles, thigh-high boots, and hundreds of other delicate couture confections trimmed with turquoise beads, crystals, or brocade.
The Manolo Blahnik shoes normally retail for $450 to $1,300 in stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. But, at the firehouse, they could be had for $150 to $350 a pair.
The unusual sale raised $198,000 for scholarships for students in the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Specifically, it will endow the Arethusa Scholarship to provide financial aid for animal science students interested in dairy production or manufacturing.
“The sale was wildly successful and a wonderful event with UConn students, staff and faculty, and local Ag-Science High School student volunteers assisting with all aspects of the sale, from parking cars to cashiers,” said Steven Zinn, professor and head of the UConn’s Animal Science Department.
George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, who are top executives at Manolo Blahnik, donated the shoes and established the scholarship to help promote agriculture and specifically the dairy industry in Connecticut.
“The scholarship will open the door to a UConn education for the next generation of dairy producers in Connecticut, helping to maintain this critical industry in the state,” Zinn said. “Their legacy will have a long-term major impact on the Department of Animal Science.”
Malkemus and Yurgaitis have a passion not only for high-end designer shoes, but for breeding high-end cattle. They bought Arethusa Farm in Litchfield 19 years ago when it went for sale across from their country home in Litchfield and have turned it into an award-winning cow-breeding operation. Four years ago, they launched a dairy with the motto “Milk Like it Used to Taste,” and began to sell milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream.
“With their own endeavor with their farm they can see how important it is to prepare the next generation of students who are capable of working in the dairy industry here in Connecticut,” said Amy Chesmer, senior director of development at the UConn Foundation’s health sciences department.
Malkemus and Yurgaitis’ efforts to revitalize Connecticut’s dairy industry comes at a time when the number of commercial dairy farms has steadily declined in the state, from 6,233 in 1940 to only 121 in 2014, according to Connecticut Department of Agriculture Assistant Bureau Director Wayne Kasaceck.
The businessmen have had a relationship for a while with UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. They have consulted with a faculty member who is a specialist in dairy production and have hosted student interns on their farm from the school, said Dean Gregory Weidemann.
“Given their support and interest, particularly in supporting the dairy industry and local foods, we are very pleased to be supporting our students who have an interest in the dairy industry and students in agriculture overall,” Weidemann said.
The money raised from the shoe sale comes at the same time the UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives initiative that aims to double the amount of financial support, including merit and need-based scholarships that the foundation raises for the benefit of the UConn student body.