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by Leslie Hill | Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 9:10 AM
They are touchstones on the Nashville calendar — Iroquois Steeplechase and the Music City Tennis Invitational usher in spring. The Eve of Janus is a celebration of summer. Christmas Village kicks off the holiday season.
They are also some of the longest-running fundraisers supporting Vanderbilt University Medical Center. These events are local traditions that have grown into so much more, collectively contributing more than $20 million to VUMC.
“The impact of the support of the thousands who organize and attend these events is staggering,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“The dedication of the organizers is especially impressive. They are truly motivated by a desire to make a difference. I am so grateful for their belief in Vanderbilt’s mission and their help in moving it forward.”
Christmas Village started in 1961 as a one-day shopping event at the Hippodrome, netting just over $1,000. Today it draws 270 merchants and 25,000 shoppers to the Tennessee Fairgrounds over four days for a premier consumer show offering unique seasonal items and gifts. The 2013 event was held November 15-17.
Organized by the Nashville Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club, Christmas Village has donated millions in proceeds to the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. The two daughters of founder Wesley Wilkerson, M.D., were Pi Beta Phis at Vanderbilt who involved their sorority sisters in volunteer projects, and the connection has blossomed for more than 60 years.
Christmas Village proceeds fund special hearing and speech programs at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and help patients recovering from traumatic brain injury at the Vanderbilt Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute.
“We are all very emotionally invested, and every one of us who has served as a co-chair truly has a special place in her heart for the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center,” said board chair Alison Wingo.
Operating Christmas Village requires more than 1,500 service hours from more than 200 volunteers each year.
The Music City Tennis Invitational (MCTI), held each April, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
“It has become a Nashville tradition,” said Patsy Bradley, co-chair of MCTI, who has been involved with the event since its inception.
“We have people from all over the U.S. who come year after year, from California, Colorado, Texas, Florida. A lot of people have been coming for 20 years, and if they can’t make it, they will still send a donation. It means that much to them.”
In 1990, MCTI began directing funds to the Center for Child Development, part of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
“We wanted to give our money to something not getting a lot of funds. The money we raise helps families who need these developmental services, and it truly makes a difference,” Bradley said.
The MCTI courts have welcomed Nashville stars like Kenny Rogers, the cast of “Hee Haw,” Minnie Pearl and Phil Vassar. Over the years the event has added a songwriter’s night at the Bluebird Café and special concerts for hospital patients.
“Many of our participants have made lifelong friendships, plus it’s for a good cause for very deserving children and families. It’s just a wonderful experience,” Bradley said.
Deemed Nashville’s rite of spring, the Iroquois Steeplechase is one of Nashville’s oldest traditions and one of the most prestigious steeplechase races in the country. Children’s Hospital has been the official charity since 1981.
Held at Percy Warner Park on the second Saturday in May, Steeplechase honors a Children’s Hospital patient as a “child ambassador” each year.
“Vanderbilt is something everyone in the community can get behind. Often their own family has needed the hospital or they know someone who has been there,” said Steeplechase Executive Director Libby Cheek. “It’s definitely a win-win — a wonderful day that supports a wonderful hospital.”
In 2012, the Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation established a research fund to honor the 31-year partnership between Steeplechase and Children’s Hospital. Now fully funded, it supports critical research addressing pressing childhood diseases.
“Steeplechase is so Nashville. Whether you have lived here all your life or are new to Nashville, it pulls together all factions of society and everyone wants to support the hospital. The amount we have been able to raise over the years is amazing for an event this size,” Cheek said.
“The outstanding young men and women who participate in the event tour the Children’s Hospital and make personal donations of DVDs. We’re trying to make the next generation of philanthropists and really connect the participants to the mission of the event,” said Carroll Kimball, advisory board chair for the event.
Funds support the Tri Delta Hematology Oncology Clinic and the Tri Delta Pediatric Cancer Endowed Research Fund, established in 2011. Following the Nashville chapter’s lead, the national sorority adopted childhood cancer as its primary philanthropic project.
“Vanderbilt is the premier research hospital in the area. We know if we want to continue to see the most impact, we must give to Vanderbilt,” Kimball said.
The black-tie ball, which includes a seated dinner and live band, was originally held on New Year’s Eve but recently moved to August.
“Tri Delta has done a great job of creating an amazing night and giving it a real purpose in supporting the Children’s Hospital,” said Jane Jackson, advisory board chair for Eve of Janus.
These four signature events represent the commitment of longtime community partners dedicated to raising funds and awareness for programs at VUMC.
“These partnerships continue to grow stronger every year,” Balser said. “As the community looks forward to these local traditions, we at Vanderbilt are excited about the opportunity to engage and connect with them. We are grateful that so many in Nashville want to support the Vanderbilt mission.”
Leslie Hill, (615) 322-4747
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