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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, June 01, 2019 1:00 am

Vera Bradley Classic continues to grow

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Vera Bradley Classic may be one of Fort Wayne's treasures – an annual event that raises money for the battle against breast cancer – but it's certainly not something for just those who live around here.

Participants come from Carmel, Logansport, Peru, Gas City, Marion and elsewhere around the state. They come from Ohio, Illinois, New York, Georgia, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere around the country.

According to Lynda Houk, executive director of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, people who find their way to the Classic from outside the Summit City mainly do it through word of mouth.

“Here's an example: We have a team that comes up from Michigan and they brought two new teams with them this year,” Houk said. “They've talked about it and how much fun it is, what a great event it is, so we have two new teams from Michigan this year.”

Plus, people just want to know their charitable contributions will be used well.

“They read (on the internet) about what the foundation is doing, where the funds are directed to, and they love how much money goes directly to research when they donate. That happens all the time,” said Houk, who makes it a point of talking to as many contributors as she can. “For the foundation, that's our growth potential – having more people learn who we are, where our funds go and doing the due diligence to make sure as much of those dollars go to research as possible.”

The Classic was founded in 1994 by Patricia Miller and Barbara Bradley Baekgaard after the death of Mary Sloan, one of the first Vera Bradley sales representatives.

The foundation has donated $32.5 million to support advancements in breast-cancer research.

The Classic will have pickleball today at Indian Trails Park, yoga Sunday at Freimann Square and golf Monday at Sycamore Hills Golf Club and Pine Valley Country Club. Information is at www.verabradley.org/classic.

However, there will be no tennis this year. Vera Bradley organizers stressed that a 24-year run for that sport was remarkable and they feel pickleball will be a perfect fit instead.

“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing competitive sports in the U.S. ... and the pickleball community in Fort Wayne is starting to take off. You're seeing more courts get installed, and I just found out they're planning for even more because of the demand,” Houk said. “So, we thought it was a great opportunity, after the decision was made to retire the tennis portion, that this was an opportunity to add an up-and-coming tournament that appeals to people who don't necessarily participate in the Classic.”

Golf remains so strong that the Classic almost didn't have enough space to accommodate the 38 teams for the 18-hole tournament and the 59 teams for the 9-hole tournament.

“We are feeling very excited about all the buzz and everything that's going on with the Classic,” Houk said.

Last year, the Classic eclipsed $1 million in earnings for the eighth time.

This year, the theme is “A Million Dreams” as money is raised to benefit the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

“We have been raising funds and have been making a significant difference through research,” Houk said. “Especially survivors, they can live their lives with a million dreams. Until we completely eradicate or find treatments for the various different types of breast cancer – and there are still so many out there – we're going to continue to consistently raise funds.”

jcohn@jg.net