Sellout crowd to fight cancer: ACS holds ‘Imagination Ball’ at Marriott

Lance Shearer

As is traditional at the Imagination Ball, there were a few “revenue enhancers,” ways to up your level of giving.

In the American Cancer Society’s annual Marco Island fundraising gala, held Friday evening at the JW Marriott hotel, you could buy a stuffed animal. You had a choice among monkeys, elephants and giraffes, but you didn’t get to keep the critter – they went with your message to a child in a hospital dealing with cancer.

You could also plunk down $100 for cubic zirconia earrings, plus a chance to win a pair of 2-carat total weight diamond earrings donated by Kathein Jewelers. With all 100 giftbags sold in the “Diamond Dig,” there was $10,000 additional raised for the fight against cancer.

More:‘A Magical Night’: ACS holding ‘Imagination Ball’ at new Marriott ballroom

And every dollar counts.

“Everybody has been touched by cancer,” said longtime Imagination Ball chair Debra Shanahan, “either themselves or someone very close. We’re all reaching toward the same goal – a world free from cancer.”

Grado Award winners Anne and Gary Landis accept their award from Amanda Cox, left. The Marco Island unit of the American Cancer Society held the Imagination Ball Friday evening at the JW Marriott hotel, raising funds to continue the fight against cancer.

Debra lost her husband, island stalwart Dick Shanahan, to cancer, along with two family members, and dear friends such as Monte Lazarus. So that’s what we are invited to imagine with the Imagination Ball, a world where no one has to get the diagnosis, and perhaps a death sentence, from this dread disease.

A record crowd of 365, a sellout made possible by the new, larger ballroom in the Marriott’s Lanai Tower, showed up to add their support to the cause. They were welcomed by hotel general manager Sharon Lockwood, along with sales and marketing director Amanda Cox, who acted as emcee, and Jameson Hewitt, owner of presenting sponsor Phoenix Roofing.

Gary Landis, a survivor of proastate cancer, along with his wife Anne, was honored with the Grado Award, in recognition of their efforts raising funds for the cause. Gary created the “Shoot Down Kids’ Cancer” annual sporting clays program in 2011 and has raised over $500,000 with it. This year’s shoot will be held March 16 at Port of the Islands resort.

In the emotional highlight of the evening, Lauren Ross of Mango’s Dockside Bistro shared her own story since being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer last August, both in person and through a short film. Between family members and friends, her mother estimated Lauren had nearly 40 ball attendees on hand specifically to support her.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house” during Lauren’s presentation, said volunteer Susie Walsh. Lauren also lost her grandmother to lung cancer, and her father to pancreatic cancer – a chilling reminder that the “Big C” touches everyone, highlighting the need to stay strong and redouble efforts in fighting it.

Contacted Monday morning, Debra Shanahan said they don’t have any numbers yet on how the ball did financially, but she is very encouraged by the level of support shown.

“Last year, we made over $250,000, and my goal is to do a little better this year,” she said.

Kathi Swaja, left, and Shelley Slechta inspect the two carat diamond earrings from Kathein Jewelers of Marco. The Marco Island unit of the American Cancer Society held the Imagination Ball Friday evening at the JW Marriott hotel, raising funds to continue the fight against cancer.

The Diamond Dig earrings were won by volunteer and ball committee member Maureen Chodaba, a nice reward for a job well done.

“I’m shocked – I never even win at bingo,” said Chodaba.

Shanahan said “of course” she will return as event chair next year. “I’m already thinking of what we’ll do.”

You can participate in the upcoming Relay for Life of Marco Island, to be held Saturday, March 30 at Mackle Park. To learn more, or contribute to the work of the ACS, call 239-642-8800, or go to