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Corpus Christi Heart Ball 2019

Have a Ball While Helping Raise Funds for the Corpus Christi Heart Ball on February 16

By Rudy Arispe

American Heart Association to recognize Dr. James Michael Neff and Karen Neff and John and Diane LaRue

The American Heart Association will honor Dr. James Michael Neff and his wife, Karen, as well as John and Diane LaRue during the Corpus Christi Heart Ball from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, February 16 at the Solomon P. Ortiz Center, 402 Harbor Drive.

Sponsored by Christus Spohn Health System, the black-tie optional gala includes a cocktail reception, dinner, entertainment, and a live auction. Tickets are $500 per person. To purchase tickets or for table sponsorship information, call (361) 445-3191 or visit

MD Monthly asked this year’s honorees to share their thoughts about this special occasion of being recognized for their work with the American Heart Association, why they volunteer and what makes the Heart Ball such a fun event.

John and Diane LaRue

John LaRue | Corpus Christi Heartball 2019

John LaRue

What does it mean to you to be honored at the American Heart Association’s Corpus Christi Heart Ball? It is a great honor to be able to help this organization in their mission to educate and work to eradicate heart disease. To even be considered and to follow in the footsteps of many previous fabulous honorees and know we are helping in the AHA’s mission is fantastic. 

How did you become involved with the American Heart Association? We were both asked to become board members many years ago, and we both served in that capacity at different times.  Diane has helped on several occasions with the Heart Walk, Go Red and Jump Rope for Heart, and we both helped co-chair the Heart Ball a few years ago. We are both acutely aware of heart disease in our country as the number one killer. Specifically, for Diane, her maternal grandfather died of a heart attack before she was born, and her maternal grandmother had a heart attack before she turned 30. While most people only have one heart attack, the fatal one, her grandmother was able to take medicines her entire life to prolong the years they shared. In 2011, Diane’s mom underwent open heart surgery. Through the efforts of the Heart Association’s research and the skill of her doctors, we are getting ready to celebrate her 95th birthday in March. 

Diane LaRue | Corpus Christi Heartball

Diane LaRue

Why is the work of the American Heart Association so important? To have a national organization with a strong presence is important to our community. We value the efforts of their great local staff who work to educate the Coastal Bend on how to combat heart disease. 

What are you looking forward to about this event? We are hoping this event will raise a lot of money to further fund the Heart Association’s education and research efforts, and we know this will be a fun event. It can be fun to get dressed up, spend time with good friends who also support our community, and dance the night away. 

What makes this event stand out from others? Because of our involvement on the Board, we know that almost all of the money raised will go back into education and research. Very few events can boast a dedication to keeping administrative costs to a minimum and making productive use of the money raised. 

Dr. James Michael and Karen Neff

Karen Neff | Corpus Christi Heartball 2019

Karen Neff

What does it mean to you to be honored at the American Heart Association’s Corpus Christi Heart Ball? I feel blessed that AHA has recognized me for their annual Corpus Christi Heart Ball. I am not one to stand on my past. But, to be honored by the community is something I will remember and cherish.

How did you become involved with the American Heart Association? I was active in AHA since the early 1980s. Initially, I taught and organized many ACLS (advanced cardiovascular life support) courses knowing that the more people who knew basic CPR and ACLS, the better chance one would survive a cardiac event. Once I moved back to my home city of Corpus, I was a board member and two-time president of AHA of Corpus Christi. I was on the board for several years.

Why is the work of the American Heart Association so important? Mainly education and letting the population know the statistics of heart disease and what each person can do to cover their own risk. By getting information out, people are living longer and hopefully better.

Dr. Michael Neff | 2019 Corpus Christi Heartball

Dr. Michael Neff

What are you looking forward to about this event? Raising large amounts of money to continue the mission of AHA. I also am social and enjoy the camaraderie. It is very uplifting to see the support of our community working together for such an important cause.

What makes this event stand out from others? Most of the funds go directly to supporting services of AHA. It is also fun to occasionally dress up and let loose.

About the Honorees

Dr. Neff is a born Texan and has lived in Corpus Christi since he was 10. He graduated salutatorian from Southwestern Medical School in 1979. After an internal medicine residency at Washington State University in St. Louis, he served as an internist in the United States Air Force until 1986, when he moved back to Corpus Christi to begin his private internal medicine practice at Thomas-Spann Clinic.

He is board certified in internal medicine, critical care medicine and geriatric medicine. Dr. Neff has served as president of the American Heart Association, president of the Corpus Christi Blood Bank, chief of staff of Corpus Christi Medical Center and currently team physician of the Corpus Christi Hooks.

Karen has been with him before medical school. She has worked with the American Heart Association, Creative Arts Center, Art Museum, at their children’s schools, and the Nueces County Medical Society. They have three wonderful children, one grandson, and a great daughter-in-law. The couple has been married for 43 years.

Diane and John LaRue were born and raised in Pennsylvania. John received his BS and MA from Villanova University prior to taking a job with the City of Philadelphia. Diane received her degree cum laude from Peirce College before taking a job working for the city. Their paths collided in 1980 while John was assistant commerce director and Diane was a financial tech for the Managing Director’s Office. John became the president of the Philadelphia Port Corporation and then the first executive director of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

In 1994, the Port of Corpus Christi unanimously chose John to be the executive director. His dedication to public service and his knowledge of the port are only outweighed by the admiration he receives from everyone with whom he meets.

Diane has given her time to many causes during their 24 years in South Texas including the United Chamber of Commerce, the American Heart Association, the Blessed Sacrament Auxiliary, Mission 911, the Port Aransas Garden Club, the New Neighbors League, the PanAmerican Round Table, Executive Women Intl., the South Texas Botanical Gardens, Leadership Corpus Christi and the Beach Management Advisory Committee. John and Diane have been married for 35 years. Two of their sons and four grandchildren live in Pennsylvania. Their sons, John and Mark, are residents of Corpus Christi.

2019 Heartball Corpus Christi


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