May 5, 2010

Kentucky Derby Fundraiser for Down Syndrome Association

What I thought was another typical fundraiser gala turned into one of the most meaningful, and yes, fun event my wife and I have ever attended. Thanks to dear friends RJ and Julie Regan who were gracious enough to invite us to join them at their table. The usual fundraising trimmings were present - the theme, the cocktail reception, the silent auction, the three-course dinner, the live auction and the after dinner dancing with a live band. Over $90,000 were raised through the auctions and ticket prices to raise awareness and funds for Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan.

The band Montage rocked the walls of Kent Country Club on this beautiful April night. The dance floor was a remake of one's high school prom, just 20+ years later. Within minutes of the band's first set, guests started joining the band for an all out karaoke jam. Host Patty Boylen definitely stole the show with her rocker voice reminiscent of Pat Benatar. KV Lacks and Otis Jackoboice were pure entertainment, both on the dance floor and on stage. Deb VanderZyden didn't hold back either with her rendition of a rock classic. RJ Regan was a pro on the cowbell. It was a dress up "basement" bash, but this time, the parents were doing the partying.

As I looked back on such a fun evening, it was the heartfelt stories shared by host Patty Boylen, and keynote speakers, Peter and Gayle Knibbe, that I will cherish the most. Both couples are parents to children with down syndrome. Patty gave birth to a child with down syndrome while Peter and Gayle chose to adopt two girls from Bogota with down syndrome. Patty, her husband Bob, Peter and Gayle are acquaintances of ours. Peter coached my son in football while my oldest daughter is friends with Bob and Patty's daughter. I have heard of Peter and Gayle's plight with adoption but I never really took a keen interest in the details of their inspiring lives until this evening. Bob and I have crossed paths a million times- on the golf course, club lunches and football games - but not once, did I take the time to ask him about his family. 

"Chris has taught us that others may win a battle or two, but we will eventually win the war. About two years ago, Chris set out to accomplish a goal. He wanted to jump off the pool’s diving board. His routine would be to walk to the end of the board, stand, sometimes sit and dangle his feet, and just wait. He didn’t care that a line was form- ing behind him. He didn’t care that our whole family was cheering him on to jump. He just waited, and then when he was bored enough, he would turn around and climb back down the stairs.

Last summer, on Chris’s ninth birthday, he climbed those stairs to the diving board again. Only this time, he was ready. With open arms and a mile-wide smile – he jumped. He accomplished his goal by taking a leap of faith, and the result was a great big victorious splash."

As Patty shared this story of Chris' historic first jump off the club's diving board after years of failed attempts, I glanced at Bob and was nearly choked up myself as I witnessed joyous tears trickle down his cheeks. 

Families like the Boylen's and Knibbe's are in every neighborhood - living life like every other family. But theirs have a little something special. As I witness my kids quickly grow up, they will eventually live life on their own. But I will always look back on the early days when coming home meant a big hug from excited kids looking forward to telling me about their "big" day. I'm a bit envious that the Boylen's and Knibbe's will cherish that joyous and genuine "welcome home" greeting a little bit longer than most of us.

By the way, who won the derby?

Peter and Gayle Knibbe
The Boylen gang
Proud mothers
Patty Boylen, Elena Aquino, Julie Regan and Rachael Ruiz
KV Lacks and Jena Centa, the highest bidder of the Chef dinner 
Scott and Kathy Carano
Patty Boylen was a rock star on stage
The Godfathers of Kent Country Club
Julie Regan
Deb VanderZyden jams with Montage
KV Lacks and Otis Jackoboice were non-stop entertainment
Jill Welsh
Otis' tribute to the exuberant crowd
Sean Welsh shows the crowd how "it's" done
Brice Bossardet and RJ Regan
Deb and Dick VanderZyden
Mike Ruggiero was Mr. Debonaire on the dance floor

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