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  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette From left: Sherry Betzner, scorekeeper Gabe Bolas, Beth Herschberger, and Susan Truax watch Danyel Miller hit the ball on the green at the 18th hole during the Vera Bradley Classic at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on Monday. This annual golf and tennis event raises considerable amounts of money for breast cancer research.

Monday, June 04, 2018 8:22 pm

Classic surpasses $1-million mark for 8th time

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

It was another landmark day for organizers of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Classic – they eclipsed $1 million in earnings for the eighth time in the event's history – and it also demonstrated how relevant the Classic should be for years to come.
Not just because the disease it's battling, breast cancer, remains a formidable foe, but because the Vera Bradley Foundation is finding ways to mobilize new and younger participants in one of Fort Wayne's beloved annual events.

“It's wonderful anytime you can capture a young person and get them involved early,” said Lynda Houk, executive director of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. “And then, maybe, you can get them involved further with their time or talents or their treasures. We have an opportunity to get their attention with what we're doing and why we're doing it.”

A new facet of the Classic this year was Sunday's Pink Yoga event at Freimann Square, which drew 150 participants

“It's our 25th year and we were thinking, 'What can we do different?'” Houk said. “We have the tradition of tennis and golf. Yoga, in a lot of communities through the United States, these types of events are starting to pop up. With how strong yoga is starting to develop in our Fort Wayne community, a couple of our steering committee members approached us with this idea of yoga in the park. It's very popular with the younger crowd and it's capturing another demographic we don't normally get.”

The 18- and 9-hole golf tournaments took place today at Sycamore Hills Golf Club and Fort Wayne Country Club – there were 376 participants – and 64 tennis players were at Wildwood Racquet Club. In a Classic first, golf and tennis took place on the same day.

Mother Nature cooperated, so everyone was in a festive mood even before the exciting news at night: $1,005,935 had been raised, pushing the all-time total raised to fight breast cancer to over $30 million.

Also announced at Sycamore Hills was that the Indiana University School of Medicine is launching a new research center focused on improving therapies for some of the most difficult-to-treat types of breast cancer, and it will be called the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research.

“We have given over $30 million, but it's not the $30 million alone that's been able to develop the programs. The $30 million that we've given them has given them seed money (at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center) to be able to grow their programs,” Houk said.

“It's enabled them to grow their programs by another $120 million because what they're able to do is, once they're able to grow these programs and get some substance behind their research, they're able to go get those multi-million-dollar federal grants to fund these ideas even further. Most people would love to have that kind of return on their investments.”

The Classic was founded in 1994 by Patricia Miller and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard after the death of a mutual friend, Mary Sloan, one of the first Vera Bradley sales representatives. The first Classic raised $64,000 and the $1-million mark was first eclipsed in 2007.

“It's not just (about) the participants. There's no event that can raise a million dollars just by charging a fee,” Houk said. “It's just a lot of community support, whether it's in-kind donations to keep our expenses down, or through corporate sponsorships, and that's where a lot of where the funds come from, as well as 'Turn the Town Pink' – all the ribbons you see around town – those are donations and you have to take a look at all the activities that surround the Classic and are successful.”