Party with a purpose: Cancer gala promises a good time for a good cause

Photo by Nori St. Paul 
 The Imagination Ball committee are busy planning the 2014 gala. Clockwise from top left are: Dick and Debra Shanahan, co-chairs, and John and Corrie Grado, honorees.

Photo by Nori St. Paul The Imagination Ball committee are busy planning the 2014 gala. Clockwise from top left are: Dick and Debra Shanahan, co-chairs, and John and Corrie Grado, honorees.

Photo by Nori St. Paul 
 The Imagination Ball committee are busy planning the 2014 gala. Clockwise from top left are: Dick and Debra Shanahan, co-chairs, and John and Corrie Grado, honorees.

Photo by Nori St. Paul The Imagination Ball committee are busy planning the 2014 gala. Clockwise from top left are: Dick and Debra Shanahan, co-chairs, and John and Corrie Grado, honorees.

Imagine, a world without cancer, and a big fancy soiree on a resort island to celebrate that goal. Marco Island is gearing up for what some believe is the most worthy event of the season: the American Cancer Society’s Imagination Ball 2014.

The annual fundraiser has been around for years, says longtime former organizer Corrie Grado, but has gone through some theme changes. The goal, however, to raise funds to eradicate cancer and to improve the quality of life for those living with cancer, remain the chief objectives.

“Years ago, the event was known as the Cattle Baron’s Ball, and it had a western theme and attire,” said Grado, who along with her husband John, are honorees for the 2014 event. The Grados have been involved in volunteer cancer work for 25 years on Marco lsland. “After that, it became a black tie event called the ‘Cancer Soiree,’ ” said Grado.

Last year after Grado stepped down as organizer, Dick and Debra Shanahan stepped in. And Debra calls it “one of the most prestigious events of the season.”

By all accounts, it’s the passionate volunteer committee that formed the first Imagination Ball in February 2013, which had 113 attendees, and raised more than $100,000, funds allocated for research and services to benefit locals, such as counseling, and programs like the Road to Recovery transportation service, the Look Good Feel Good program, and to purchase wigs for cancer patients, and even provide housing through Hope Lodge. Locally, ACS has organized more than 3,000 transportation services at no cost to those with cancer.

So far the optional black tie event, slated for Feb. 15, which includes dinner, auction and entertainment, has 130 attending. The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort and Spa’s ballroom seats 200 people, according to Imagination board member Heidi Berge. “We are optimistic that the 70 remaining seats will be taken,” said Berge.

The event is memorable, according to Bob and Catherine Thomas of Marco Island, who attended the 2013 gala, and are going to the 2014 gala. The reason they go, said Bob is “The camaraderie of the people makes all the difference in the world. It’s a feel good, do good event.” Another reason to support ACS: Catherine Thomas has survived two bouts with breast cancer, he added.

Berge stated that in part because of fundraisers like this, two of every three people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. today survive for at least five years. “There has been a 20 percent decline in cancer deaths since the ‘90s. In fact,” said Berge, “four hundred people in the U.S. every day are celebrating a birthday that would have otherwise been lost to this disease.

“It’s guaranteed to be an exciting event you won’t want to miss,” said co-chair Debra Shanahan.

For tickets, contact Sue Olszak at the Marco Island American Cancer Society at 239-642-8800, ext. 3890.

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