When two people who worked at Horton’s Ace Hardware in La Grange were diagnosed with cancer in 2001, co-workers decided they wanted to fight the disease.
What started as a non-profit foundation and fundraiser in the La Grange area has since grown to an annual must-attend event for people throughout the Chicago area.
The H Foundation, and its upcoming Goombay Bash
event, has raised more than $4.5 million for the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of
Northwestern University. The funding is used as seed money for basic science
cancer research projects.
“When bad things happen, people do one of two things. Run and hide or do something about it,” said John Rot, president of The H Foundation board and owner at Horton’s Home Lighting.
Rot was a close friend of Pam Hertz, one of the employees diagnosed with cancer. She died of breast cancer at 31, but her memory lives on through The H Foundation.
“She was really someone who touched everyone when she was around,” Rot said. “I have never met a person that hasn’t been touched by the disease.”
That includes Kate Harken, the new executive director of the foundation, who was introduced to it by attending the Goombay Bash. She first came as a guest and was soon a regular. But the event took on a new meaning when her father was diagnosed with cancer two days before the Goombay Bash in 2010.
“That Goombay, it was really emotional,” she said. “But every year since then it’s a celebration. We’re honoring the memory of those who lost the fight and celebrating those who have survived and are working through it.”
This year’s Goombay Bash is at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. It includes a gourmet buffet, live and silent auctions, raffles, live entertainment and fireworks, as well as celebrity guests. This year’s special guest is Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Also new this year is a Caribbean-themed casino.
The growth of the event has been incredible. In its first year, the event was in Woodridge and the goal was to raise between $10,000 and $20,000. It brought in about $100,000, and now Navy Pier is just about the only place that will hold enough people for it.
Now the Board of Directors, Advisory Board and staff includes people from all throughout the Chicago area, including Barrington, Batavia, Downers Grove, Forest Park, Lake View, Lincoln Park, Naperville, Western Springs, Wilmette and Wheaton.
"We just wanted to do something that started within the store so everyone could get involved," Rot said. "When we moved downtown it really started to blow up to an area wide thing. It really has taken on a life of its own. We never expected that it would get to this point."
Harken said the Goombay Bash is "the party of the year," a casual atmosphere featuring people decked out in Hawaiian shirt and sandals. But the fun each year results in continued steps to finding a cure for cancer.
The money raised—again, $4.5 million in 12 years—supports basic science cancer research projects, which means it helps the cancer center secure grants for relatively untested ideas that could help cancer be detected earlier and with more precision.
And it's the gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps the most remarkable donation The H Foundation has given the cancer center was a $20,000 grant toward reproductive research by Dr. Teresa Woodruff. She wanted to promise young cancer patients a healthy reproductive system following treatment, and her research because of this grant led to another $21 million grant. Read more here about the research that's been aided by The H Foundation.
Dr. Steven Rosen, director of the Lurie Cancer Center, said The H Foundation as been an incredible partner and fundamental in the progress of cancer research.
"It’s remarkable. The energy that the group brings, their devotion to try to advance the field and help others. It’s been one of the most fulfiling relationships I’ve had in my time as director," said Rosen, who attends the Goombay Bash every year. "It’s one of the most festive events we have. It’s casual and fun, but the importance is clear."