The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 10, 2021 1:00 am

Event inspires Red Coat winner

Says Vera Bradley Classic has roots in Mad Anthonys

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Mad Anthonys have been raising money for charity since 1957, much of it through a golf tournament that has adapted to the changing interests of the community, the state of the economy, and to keep putting dollars toward the right places.

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, who will receive the Mad Anthonys' Red Coat on Saturday, has a particular appreciation for what the organization of northeast Indiana business leaders and professionals has done. As the co-founder of Vera Bradley, Baekgaard, 82, has worked through the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Classic to similarly put on a fun, charity-driven sports event.

“We have our Vera Bradley Classic and I think in a way (the Mad Anthonys) probably inspired us to have a golf tournament in the first place,” Baekgaard said Thursday. “I was always so impressed by them and the whole charitable (endeavor) – I believe in that and giving is a big part of my life – so they've been an inspiration for me. And it's been going on for so many years; it's incredible to keep an event exciting over all those years. You have to just keep it new and they've been able to do that.”

The Mad Anthonys have raised more than $5 million for the Mad Anthonys Children's Hope House, which provides lodging and support services for families of children undergoing pediatric and neonatal treatment. Their pro-am took place June 28 at Fort Wayne Country Club, the latest incarnation of an event that has had celebrity pro-ams, exhibitions between pros such as Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, and a tournament of LPGA pros.

Red Coats have gone to sports figures, entertainers, politicians and philanthropists. The Red Coat Gala will be at The Bradley, the downtown hotel Baekgaard helped bring to Fort Wayne.

“All of these things are like dreams,” Baekgaard said. “I never dreamed I'd get the Red Coat. And it was a dream to have the hotel, but the fact that now it's here and up and running, and that some of the people will be staying there and we're going to have the event there, it's exciting.”

Baekgaard co-founded Vera Bradley, named after her mother, with Pat Miller in 1982 to bring more design and color to the luggage market. Baekgaard was co-president until 2010, then chief creative officer until 2017.

After a friend died in 1994 from breast cancer, Baekgaard and Miller founded the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, which has raised more than $36 million for the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Baekgaard had seen the Mad Anthonys' success – and golf ran in Baekgaard's family; her uncle, Jack Grout, had been Nicklaus' instructor – so it made sense for the Classic to start with golf. This year's Classic will feature pickleball Sept. 17 and 18 at the SportONE Fieldhouse, plus golf Sept. 20 at Fort Wayne and Orchard Ridge Country Clubs.

“We used to bring in celebrities and then we noticed it wasn't all that important to the women that were playing,” Baekgaard said. “Every year, we've changed it a little bit and tried to give it a little newness. Of course, we're very fortunate because we have the doctors come up from Indiana University to speak and Jay Hess (dean of the School of Medicine) is one who's amazing.

“The one thing I've said about the Classic every year is that people don't just give, they come to it, too. They show up. We have a couple foursomes of women in their 80s who have never missed one Classic tournament. I think with the Mad Anthonys, it's the same thing; they get loyalists, who really care about it. It's part of their heart and it has more meaning than just, 'Raise money, give money.'”

Mad Anthonys Red Coat Gala

Where: The Bradley

When: 5:45 p.m. Saturday

To donate:

Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Classic

Pickleball: 5 p.m. Sept. 17, 9 a.m. Sept. 18, at SportONE Fieldhouse

Golf: 7 a.m., Sept. 20 at Fort Wayne Country Club; 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Orchard Ridge Country Club

To register/donate:

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