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Lynne Cheney key speaker at joint fundraising event

Lynne Cheney, right, talks with Dr. Max S. Wicha, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, and his wife, Sheila Crowley. (Photo by Paul Thacker)

It is important to give children the knowledge and understanding of the ideals that helped build this country, Lynne Cheney said during a speech before 275 people at a joint fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Cancer Center Childhood Cancer Program Oct. 4.

“There are so many stories about men and women who worked to make our great country greater still, and our children should know these stories so they can take up the task of making America a place where every person can fully exercise his or her God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney’s focus on children and knowledge went well with the theme of the night, Words for a Wish and a Cure: A Celebration of Books and Music. Cheney praised the event and the work of Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Childhood Cancer Center.

“If one were to think of all the worthwhile things one might do, it is hard to imagine that there are any more important undertakings than helping a child have a moment of joy and helping a child overcome an illness,” Cheney said.

The fundraiser also attracted the Grammy-winning Irish group, The Chieftains. Attendees clapped their hands and tapped their feet to the group’s upbeat songs.

The event raised $100,000 to go toward fulfilling children’s wishes through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and helping fund a Neuroblastoma Research Fellowship to find a cure for neuroblastoma, a common childhood tumor. The money also will go to help grant four specific wishes for children being treated at U-M, said Laura Hindle, the event co-chair.

“It is amazing how many wonderful, kind, generous people there are in the world,” said Susan Lerch, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan.

“To get Lynne Cheney to come to an event like this says a lot,” said Valerie Castle, co-director of the Childhood Cancer Program and associate provost for academic and faculty affairs.

The event, the first fundraising collaboration between the two organizations, served two needs of the community, she said.

“There has never been a fundraiser in Ann Arbor for Make-A-Wish, and not many people know about the Childhood Cancer Program within the community, so it was a wonderful opportunity for two special organizations to come together,” Castle said.

While this was the first combined fundraiser of the two organizations, they have a long history of working together. The Childhood Cancer Program is the top referrer of children to Make-A-Wish, Hindle said.

The Childhood Cancer Program, the largest in the state, has referred 250 children to Make-A-Wish since 2000, Castle said. Make-A-Wish has provided $1.5 million in services to the children, she said.

Attending the event were several children whose wishes came true. Jessica Waldron, who recently spent a weekend in Chicago fulfilling her dream to record a CD, received a standing ovation after performing the song “Hero.”

Seven-year-old Megan Gruenberg’s wish was granted when she and her parents went to Disney World in 1997. Gruenberg, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was 2, confessed a love for the Dumbo ride, and guessed she rode it “a hundred times.”

“It was like being royalty; every detail was taken care of. It made Meg feel very special, and it was very humbling for us,” said Jessica Gruenberg, Megan’s mother.

This “royal” treatment is what the program strives for, Castle said.

“It is dreadful to be diagnosed as a young child with cancer,” she said. “Make-A-Wish gives them something to look forward to.”

The evening also featured a silent auction, which included an opportunity to have 250 hard-cover copies of a written work published by Edwards Brothers Inc. and Sleeping Bear Press. Videos shown at the event highlighted the faculty, staff and patients in the cancer program and the stories of Make-A-Wish Foundation recipients.

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