BY TAYLOR ROBINSON
An all-year preparation in Washtenaw County leads up to one of the single-most important fundraising events of the year: the Holiday Ball. This year, the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center was transformed into “A Night at the Rainbow Room,” inspired by the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The Holiday Ball began in 1976 by Judy Dow Rumelhart when she was encouraged by her father, Dr. Harry Towsley, who was a board member, generous donor and good friend of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital. Throughout the years, the event has changed venues to accommodate its growth of community involvement.
More than 950 guests attended the fundraising event, spearheaded by this year’s committee chair Lynn Stella, who’s been volunteering for the event for more than 25 years. Stella first got involved when she volunteered while working as a nurse for the hospital, and hasn’t stopped volunteering since.
To celebrate the event’s 40th anniversary, Stella and her team brought the glamour and the glitz of The Rainbow Room to life with handmade decorations portraying the vintage and elegant flair of the 1940s. Preparing for the event was possible through the collaboration of almost 200 volunteers – members from the hospital, community and outlying community came together to put on an event which raised $1.1 million dollars.
“As a nurse and nurse anesthetist, who practiced at St. Joe’s for many years, I have seen firsthand the need for this kind of compassionate, patient-centered exceptional care St. Joe’s in known for,” said Stella in a letter prior to the fundraiser.
The proceeds will go toward renovating and expanding the Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. Cancer care facilities and programs – which help to sustain cancer care excellence in areas such as research, robotic surgery, CyberKnife radiotherapy, chemotherapy and multidisciplinary care – will also benefit, according to the event’s press release.
“I think the biggest thing is that there is such a feel of community that this event brings. St. Joe’s is such a gem of a community hospital and why we are all there – we are giving back to the community, truly taking part of what is at the heart of this event and that is to help St. Joe’s, and in turn making a commitment to helping others through patients and family,” Stella said.
Melissa Sheppard, director of St. Joe’s special events, worked collaboratively with Stella and volunteers to make this year’s fundraiser, once again, a success – this year making it her tenth overall.
Sheppard explained the beneficiaries were particularly meaningful to Stella because her husband, Dr. Philip Stella served as the Holiday Ball philanthropy chair but is also the medical director for oncology at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.
“When you stand at the event and everything is kind of coming together and culminating, that evening is so rewarding when you see nearly a thousand people who have come together and a committee who has worked together so closely, and so intently all year long,” Sheppard said. “Just to know the community support of where we live – it is just so overwhelming.”
The fundraiser included dinner, music, and last but not least, a tree-lighting ceremony honoring those whose lives have been affected by cancer. Guests, including cancer survivors, provided names of loved ones to be engraved on ornaments. The ornaments will be collected and turned into a display at the cancer center in memory of the community event.
“We’ve raised more than $20 million since 1976 and that supports a variety of top-notch services that we have here at St. Joe’s that our community will ultimately benefit from,” Sheppard said.