Imagination Ball celebrates 35 years of fighting cancer

Ray and Louise Jean to receive Grado Award

Will Watts

On Feb. 10, the American Cancer Society will “Reach for the Stars to Find a Cure,” with the 2018 Imagination Ball. This year’s event will celebrate 35 years of fighting cancer with funds raised at the annual gala.

It all began in January 1983 when a black-tie social, then known as the American Cancer Soiree, was held at the original Island Country Club. Corrie Grado, then known as Corrie Llewellyn, was the general chair, assisted by co-chair Norma Beckwith. Funds that have been raised through the years have aided in research and the development of new treatments that have saved many lives.

Grado reminisced of those first days of the event.

“I was serving on the Board of the American Cancer Society in Naples where a fundraising ball was held each year. I thought to myself ‘Why not have a fundraising ball on Marco Island?’ Many people thought it couldn’t be done.” She proved otherwise. The first event, attended by 250 people, was known as the Rose Garden Ball, as the country club was turned into a floral garden with lattice work and hundreds of tiny lights, illuminating the way for Marco Islanders to help find a cure for this deadly disease.

The success of the event eventually led to the establishment of Marco Island’s own American Cancer Society office, founded by Corrie Grado and Paula Tateo. Now known as the Imagination Ball, each year, this elegant event creates an evening that inspires us to imagine a world without cancer.

One of the most highlights of the evening will be the presentation of the Grado Award. Named in honor of the late John Grado and his wife Corrie for their years of service to the American Cancer Society, the award recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly in the fight against cancer. This year’s honorees are Marco Island residents Ray and Louise Jean.

Auctioneer Rick Gallo takes bids during the 2017 Imagination Ball.

Ray and Louise were both born and raised in Lewiston, Maine. They moved away after school, embarking on a journey to many areas across the United States, mostly in the Midwest, throughout Ray’s career in the manufacturing industry.

With a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, Ray has served as president and CEO of Varlen Corporation, Corporate VP at AMSTED Industries following its merger with Varlen, and CEO and chairman of the board of Quanex Corporation.

Previous board service has included the Lindberg Corporation of Chicago, Nicor, Inc. of Naperville, Illinois and the University of St. Thomas and Memorial Hermann Hospital of Houston. He currently serves as board chairman of AMSTED Industries, Chicago and the University of Maine Board of Visitors.

Ray and Louise Jean, 2018 Grado Award recipients

Since retiring to Marco in 2009, Ray has served on the boards of the ACS and the Island Country Club. He is an active member of the Cape Marco Association and Vera Cruz Boards.

The Jeans have three children and seven wonderful grandchildren. Ray and Louise now divide their time between Marco Island and Scarborough, Maine. They are both avid tennis players, enjoy playing golf and travel extensively with family and friends. They are active members of the Island Country Club, the Hideaway Beach Club and the Portland Country Club in Maine. 

After purchasing a condo in Hideaway Beach in 1998, Ray and Louise began to experience that almost magical trait of Marco Island – the sense of community and commitment to giving back to worthy causes. They met Marco Islander Bill Dean, a tireless advocate and fund raiser for the American Cancer Society, who encouraged Ray to serve on the Marco Island ACS Board from 2010 to 2013.

“We are blessed in that cancer has not taken any of our immediate family members, but we have witnessed its scourge with extended family, as well as with countless people and close friends we have made in the many communities where we have lived over the years,” said Ray. He sadly told of a friend who lost the battle to a virulent form of lymphoma only a few months after diagnosis. But Ray and Louise both hold the promise of hope in their hearts for another friend who is currently battling multiple myeloma and for Louise’s longtime friend who is now undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, handling it with grace and dignity thanks to the support of loved ones and the American Cancer Society.

Jim and Allyson Richards head onstage to accept the Grado Award in 2017 in this file photo.

“We monitor the scientific progress being made to find a cure for cancer, and have invested and closely follow the breakthrough research in immunotherapy. ACS’s research programs are leading in this endeavor,” said Ray and Louise. They went on to sum it all up perfectly, saying “The ACS programs and services are what truly distinguish the organization. From Reach to Recovery (breast cancer support), Hope Lodge (free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers), Road to Recovery (rides to treatment centers), and Look Good Feel Better (a support program that teaches patients how to camouflage the cosmetic side effects of cancer treatments) to education, support communities and mastectomy products; the list goes on! To the Jeans, the American Cancer Society’s striking mobilization of resources to educate and support the millions affected by this disease is reason enough to lend financial support. volunteers and staff make a difference to millions every day!” 

Cancer Society manager Sue Olszak with a table's worth of bid paddles at the 2017 Imagination Ball.


This year’s Imagination Ball will be held the JW Marriott Marco Island and is presented by Corrie Grado and chaired by Debra Shanahan and features fine food, music by the Stacey Allison Band and both live and silent auctions.

To learn more, make a donation and to tickets for the Feb. 10 Imagination Ball,

visit, or email or 239-642-6217.