When Fern and Mary Sugar joined the fledgling Central Maryland Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF) after their older daughter was diagnosed with type one diabetes (T1D) in 1986, they wanted to do something significant to help find a cure. And they did it with a splash!
Thanks to their vision and work, no detail was overlooked for what became known as the “South Pacific-themed” 1989 Rainbow Gala.
Guests were served cocktails before making their way to their respective tables, each adorned by edible center pieces of pineapples and shrimp ornamented by orchids. Attendees played games in tiki huts while the smell of roast pig wafted throughout. While the event itself was spectacular, its real accomplishment was that it became the springboard for subsequent galas organized by the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Chapter of JDRF.
Since 1989, the annual event, now called the JDRF Hope Gala, has consistently increased, often doubling the amount of funds raised from the previous year. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this year’s gala hosted by the Greater Chesapeake & Potomac Chapter is sure to be an unforgettable evening filled with outstanding food, entertainment, and presentations by community leaders in support of raising funds for critical T1D research. In 2016, JDRF GCP’s two galas raised over $3 million, a hefty step up from the $40,000 raised back in 1989.
The Sugars, of Baltimore, Md., took a leadership role in JDF soon after joining. Marty volunteered to head up the Board, and Fern chaired the Rainbow Gala Committee.
“For the first year, we wanted to throw something significant to make a name and to get corporate people involved. We figured we’d earn x amount here, but the following two years we would end up doubling, tripling that figure because we would already have all these people involved,” said Marty.
Marty, a dentist, had never organized a gala. Describing the year of planning that went into the Gala, Marty said, “I was practicing dentistry half the day and on the phone the other half with the Houston JDF Chapter and the governor’s office.” He recalled the advice he received from the Houston chapter: “You have to have tables and you have to get people who are willing to do the selling for you.” A family contact put Marty in touch with the governor’s office and then-Governor William Donald Schafer agreed to be honored at the gala.
Fern garnered support from various businesses including Dole, who donated the pineapples that were used to make the center pieces. Paul Wolman, who had an event firm, PW Feats, jumped at the opportunity and developed the theme for the gala – “South Pacific” – based on the 1958 film version of Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s musical. Graffito, who used to be on Howard Street, developed the artwork for the invitations. The various businesses charged very little or no fees for their services.
The Gala, held at the Omni International (now the Radisson Hotel) at the Inner Harbor, made a lasting impression on everyone, including Governor Shafer. Although he was the honorary guest, the governor sent a check to cover the cost of his tickets along with a heartfelt letter thanking the Chapter. The plan succeeded; more corporate partners became involved in the chapter and the subsequent galas made over $300,000, eventually growing to the millions the galas have raised in recent years. While the organization has changed from JDF to JDRF and the chapter has been combined with the Washington, DC office, the format of having a corporate gala committee and a volunteer gala committee has remained since 1989.
Fern and Marty took a sabbatical from JDRF to focus on raising their two daughters, but have become involved in the gala committee again in recent years. Fern’s floral company, Belles Fleurs, will be supplying the floral arrangements for the upcoming galas. Our community is so thank for what the Hope Gala does for those living with T1D today, which would not be possible without the dedication of people like Fern and Marty.