Imagine that you throw a party — a big party — and it just so happens to be on Derby eve. It’s a new party, in a sea of other big parties and events on Oaks night, so you would naturally worry about its success. This native Louisvillian did just that, creating the Unbridled Eve Derby Gala from scratch in 2012, and it has been going gangbusters ever since, attracting celebrities and VIPs from all over. She loves Louisville and supporting everything about it; most of all, she loves showing off her hometown to all of our out-of-town guests. For the woman who “never stops moving” and who suffers from major “FOMO” (read more about that below), she ekes every bit out of Derby season and absolutely makes the most of it! Meet Tonya York Dees, our FACE of Louisville and the face of Derby season.
This is your seventh Unbridled Eve, and this party just got named to one of the top 100 parties by The Salonniere. In a sea of other events and parties during Derby, what makes this one so successful?
My sister Tammy and I were so honored to see that we made the list. It just goes to show that the varied charities we support, the amazing volunteer base who make it all happen, the gorgeousness of the event and the friendliness of the celebrities and attendees who are there are what make it so special.
How did Unbridled Eve start and tell us about its current status?
It started eight years ago with a group of amazing and committed volunteers and sponsors. My sister Tammy York Day and I started the Unbridled Charitable Foundation in 2012 with Unbridled Eve Derby Gala as a fundraiser. Now, there are 100 planning committee members and volunteers and 16 total charity beneficiaries, including the two primary beneficiaries, Blessings in a Backpack and the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund at the Fund for the Arts. To date, our foundation has supported over 30 charities with over $2.2 million either by direct proceeds or by funding received from exposure during the event. We are excited for 2018 and its success!
Tell us about what you do when you are not working on Unbridled Eve.
I own York Management, Inc., a full-service business and event planning company. We manage and produce healthcare and other business conferences and seminars, IdeaFestival, grand openings, other special occasions and more.
You are always with your sister Tammy. Is it easy or difficult working with your sibling? What different roles do you take on when planning events together?
It’s easy! We finish each other’s sentences and balance each other out. Since everyone thinks we are the same person anyway, it works out really well, lol!
What is the most challenging part of your job, and what is the most rewarding?
[The most challenging part is] that it is not a 9-to-5 job — it never stops. And, the randomness and unpredictability of it can be challenging.
The most rewarding part is seeing the outcomes of a great conference or event, where people learn, change and grow; meeting amazing people; experiencing an amazing event where people are having the time of their life; making a difference through charity work; and showcasing the city I love!
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
Be an interior designer. Or a Wall Street attorney. Or a travel blogger.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have three college degrees. I’m a read-aholic. I suffer from severe FOMO (“fear of missing out”).
What are three words that describe you?
“Never stops moving”
What advice do you treasure?
“Just put a little lipstick on and everything will be OK.” — Mom
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
Lots of places, especially in NuLu restaurants and shops. Also antique malls — my therapy!
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
I love everything about Louisville! The Derby, eating out at our amazing restaurants, attending an arts performance or charity event and attending UofL games.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
There are so many favorites, that it is hard to choose! Proof on Main is my go-to bar & restaurant, Butchertown Grocery, Jeff Ruby’s, I love ROC and any of Edward Lee’s restaurants. Also love Shalimar, Noosh Nosh, Brasserie Provence and Decca.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
I have a stack ready for post-Derby reading!
1. The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.
2. Dreaming Southern by Linda Bruckheimer
3. The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
4. Bourbon, Strange: Surprising Stories of American Whiskey by Charles Cowdery
5. Whichever book Nora Roberts donates to our Unbridled Eve swag bags.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are some of your favorite things right now?
1. Creating memories with friends and family
2. Living and taking life one day at a time
3. My fur babies Sebastian, Gigi and OC
4. Fixing up a 118-year-old property
Thank you to Tonya for taking some time out of her whirlwind schedule to meet with us. If you are interested in Unbridled Eve Derby Gala, it is Friday, May 4, 2018, at 7 p.m. at the Galt House. For tickets, click here.
Thank you to Adele Reding of Adele Reding Photography for the beautiful pictures of Tonya.
To be inspired by other great women in Louisville, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.