Surfer Girls: Wouldn't it be Find a Cure?

Gala Committee: (from Left) Back Row: Karen White, Karen Reder, Susan Mustian, Coleen Korelitz, Jan Snell, Kim Lucken, Carla Palmore, Donna Walker (front row): Cathy O’Bryan, Mona Kerstine, Mara Wolf, Laura Cramer, Petra Vester, Kathleen Stenger, Jamie Gindele (not pictured: Holly Amann, Liz Babcock, Nancy Brown, Beth Danker, Sharon Dizenhuz, Michelle Dobrozsi, Kim Dougherty, Shelley Fisher, Lisi George, Katy Jensen, Mary Jensen, Becky Johnson, Julie Jolson, Denise Koesterman, Jeri Lynch, Lynn Rogers, Pattie Spicher, Ann Taylor, Anne Viall, Marge Vontz, Anne Zaring


High-spirited entertainment, guests spontaneously jumping up to dance, entertainers swinging from the ceiling, puppies that sell for $15,000…this might sound like a lively party, but instead these are things that tend to happen at the annual JDRF Cincinnatians of the Year Gala. Many people tend to think of nonprofit black-tie gala fundraisers as boring affairs, with lots of talking and a barely edible chicken dinner, but JDRF prides itself in breaking the mold of traditional galas by hosting a full-fledged and immersive extravaganza.

“Some of the proudest moments are when people tell me how different and exciting our gala is,” says JDRF Executive Director Dr. Melissa Newman. “Often times, people from the corporate world attend galas as a perfunctory thing, as a work obligation. We try to wow them and make them want to come back year after year. We strive to host the must-attend event in the city; the one thing that people do NOT want to miss!”

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) was founded in 1970, and the Southwest Ohio Chapter began not long after. 2019 will mark the 35th anniversary of the gala, honoring the Laura and David Cramer family.  Last year the chapter achieved its fourth consecutive record year of fundraising, achieving a staggering $6 million to fund research to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes (T1D).

“We were fortunate last year to have received a significant bequest of over $2.5 million,” says Newman. “While we know it will be a huge challenge to realize a fifth consecutive record year because of that, we still are working hard every day to maximize our fundraising efforts.”

To continue the gala’s fundraising momentum, the volunteer and staff team have been working nearly year-round to conceptualize and execute an event that maintains the standard of excitement that the JDRF is known for. “While we love having the reputation for throwing an epic party, first and foremost our primary goal is to raise money to find a cure for T1D,” Newman emphasizes. So, while theme and entertainment are important, the JDRF team never loses sight of its overall mission.

The hallmark of the JDRF Cincinnatians of the Year Gala is always its innovative theme, and this year’s concept hearkens back to a ‘60’s West Coast surf culture built around the concept of “Wouldn’t it be nice to find a cure for T1D,” paying homage to the Beach Boys. “Guests can expect lots of fun nods to the Beach Boys, and we’re most excited to bring in the cover band Sail On,” Newman adds. “We want guests to forget they’re in Cincinnati for a minute and feel like they’ve been transported to a beach in California.”

During the entertainment and immersive theme, JDRF will not only honor the Cramer family as Cincinnatians of the Year but will also recognize Petra Vester – one of the three overall gala co-chairs – as its 2019 Cynthia Marver Marmer Volunteer of the Year. “Petra is the absolute epitome of a rock star volunteer,” says Newman. “Not only does she serve an important role as a leader on the gala committee, but she’s also been involved in almost every facet of what we do here at the chapter.”

As for attire, Newman encourages guests to have fun with the theme and come to the event in a “beachy chic” style. “We hope to see some creative black-tie attire this year…things like Hawaiian shirts under tux jackets or colorful bowties on men, and maxi dresses for women.” Or, guests can do what those on staff secretly do every year, which is wear flip flops hidden by long gowns. Laughs Newman, “Hey, in our defense, we walk the equivalent of 10 miles on gala day in running around for set up and during the event itself. We’re glad to have an excuse to wear more comfortable footwear.”

Regardless of what guests opt to wear, Newman and the rest of the JDRF team just hope for one thing – that guests come prepared to have a good time and to give generously to a most worthwhile cause so one day they can celebrate a world without T1D.