MANKATO — Even without the theatrical stage makeup of one of rock and roll's most legendary icons, Gene Simmons commands a red carpet and an ogling crowd.
The Kiss co-founder made a cameo Sunday night for a charity function at the home of Mankato entrepreneurs Angie and Dan Bastian, founders of Angie's Kettle Corn.
Dressed in a black sport coat, jeans, black pointed boots and sunglasses, Simmons spoke about how growing up in poverty in Israel instilled in him the importance of giving back to charity in ways large and small.
"We had nothing," he said of his childhood, recalling the arrival of a care package similar to the ones that Minnesota nonprofit Matter distributes with food supplies in an effort to improve health. The Mankato event benefited Matter as well as the C200 Foundation, which works to support and inspire women in business, and Opportunity International, which works to alleviate poverty.
"One day I had the sense as a 6-year-old child that somebody cared," Simmons said. Calling the increasingly divisive world "not a nice place," Simmons said "the least we should all do is give back."
An ambassador for Matter, Simmons said the causes the Bastians support are personal. Talking with reporters on the red carpet as fans and supporters jostled for pictures, he said, "the only hope for this planet are women."
Simmons performs with Kiss Monday night at the Verizon Wireless Center as part of the band's Freedom to Rock tour.
Angie Bastian said she was thrilled and shocked when the star agreed to arrive a day early to support the causes she's passionate about as a female businesswoman. She's a member of C200 and in January became involved with Matter and Opportunity International after traveling to Africa.
“Mr. Simmons agreed to come in a day early and donate his time and talk about these organizations to raise some money to help women and children in poverty,” Bastian said. The C200 organization works to serve as role models for other young women and offers scholarships and seed money to help them succeed.
The Bastians founded the kettle corn and popcorn company in 2001 and have propelled the company to national acclaim. It's now sold in retails stores nationwide and is a fixture at many Minnesota functions.
"We happen to be very fortunate, have worked very hard to have become successful," Bastian said. "We want to make sure that they understand that it's possible for them too.”
Calling himself the embodiment of the American dream, Simmons talked about the importance of living in moderation. He said 30 years ago he stopped giving people gifts for holidays, instead sending them cards saying he made a gift to a micro-lending organization in their name.
Asked what people can do individually to support global causes, Simmons urged people to keep a charity budget just like a grocery budget and be mindful of excess consumption.
"We throw away more stuff than we ever use," he said.
Many who attended the event, which sold about 100 tickets, said they were tickled that Simmons made an appearance. Some even opted for Kiss T-shirts over the glamorous attire more typical of red carpet affairs.
Mankato native Melissa Kjolsing Lynch works with Angie Bastian through Minnesota Cup, a statewide startup competition, and said it was "special" to offer her support to Bastian and the nonprofits. A kiss fan, she traveled from Minneapolis for the gathering.
"When (Bastian) shared the invite with me, she said, 'we're having something at my house with Gene Simmons, yes the guy from Kiss.' And I was like, 'Oh my gosh I'll be there,'" Kjolsing Lynch said.