Local breast cancer support organization raises $2.5 million in 15 years
LUXEMBURG – Breast cancer can be scary.
Most people don’t want to hear about it, talk about it or read about it.
But everybody knows somebody who has had it, is going through it or may inherit it.
Linda Rueckl of Luxemburg was going through it more than 15 years ago. She knew Meg Steinhardt and Kathy Miller of De Pere were battling breast cancer as well.
All three were familiar with national breast cancer awareness groups and contacted one of them to ask how they could help raise money. The only requirement — they wanted some of the money to stay in Kewaunee and Brown counties.
The request was kindly rejected.
So, the three women, along with Kathy’s husband, Rick, sat at the Millers’ kitchen table brainstorming how they could meet the financial, emotional and informational needs of breast cancer patients and survivors in their own backyard.
That's how Ribbon of Hope was launched.
A 501c(3) nonprofit form was filled out and the foursome took their fundraising campaign to a golf outing at Thornberry Creek in Hobart, the course which hosted the LPGA Classic earlier this month. The first year, 2003, they raised $13,000.
Fifteen years later, Ribbon of Hope has awarded $2.5 million to about 3,900 women in Kewaunee and Brown counties.
“Meg, Kathy and I were fortunate to have insurance,’’ co-founder Rueckl said, “but so many women did not or were forced to take extended time off from their jobs.’’
They discovered women could use the money to help pay medical bills, co-pays, medications, prostheses/bras, wigs, food, rent and mortgages, and gas or transportation for doctor visits or chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
In 2017, Ribbon of Hope reported 481 women applied for grants totaling $319,000. Rueckl noted there should be an asterisk after the word “women,’’ because there have been a few men applying for a grant who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In the past 15 years, “the detection has hit younger and younger women, too,’’ she added.
So far, the ages of applicants have ranged from 19 to 92.
Steinhardt is a past president of Ribbon of Hope and received the Wisconsin Heroes Award from state First Lady Tonette Walker in 2012. She continues to work with the organization. Miller passed away from breast cancer complications in 2007.
Laura Hollister of Green Bay discovered the group through her husband, Mark, who volunteered for the golf outing in 2007 with fellow co-workers. He drove a golf cart with a young lady going through breast cancer, she explained. She told him her breast cancer journey.
She then asked Mark what his story was. He said he didn’t have a story.
“Now he does,’’ Laura said. “A year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer.’’
After the discovery, she immediately was on the phone with Ribbon of Hope volunteers who have become good friends. Hollister is currently retired from Ribbon of Hope's board of directors but remains active in the group.
“Mark was also on the phone,’’ Laura added. “What I love about Ribbon of Hope is that it is 100 percent from the heart. That is what makes us strong. We work well together.’’
Getting local support
There are request forms online for those desiring the support by the group. The forms must be signed by the applicant's medical provider. One of 10 volunteers on a two-week rotation will follow-up with a phone call to the breast cancer treatment recipient upon receiving the request.
“We just want to talk to them and find out what’s going on,’’ said Nancy Copeland of De Pere, chairman of the Request Form Committee. “Whether it is work issues or a disability or a family situation, we just want to have a conversation to see if they are doing OK. Some cases are really difficult.’’
The committee, however, will not give advice or doctor referrals.
A major key to the organization's success is its ability to recruit contributions.
There are plenty of people and businesses who have generously donated — some major, some minor — to their cause through the years.
“We believe it is because the money stays local,’’ said Rueckl, whose family was recognized this year with organization’s annual Warrior Award, given to an individual or group that embraces the Ribbon of Hope mission. Rueckl’s son, Tom G. Rueckl, is Ribbon of Hope president. Also pledging at a moment’s notice are Linda’s husband, Tom, and their other sons, Tim, Jeff and Dave, along with their daughters-in-law.
“All fundraisers are important,’’ continued Rueckl, “whether big or small. It all helps to contribute to our mission of financial and emotional support.’’
Ribbon of Hope is one of three organizations in the state, and the only one focused on breast cancer help, receiving funds from the Favre 4 Hope foundation formed by former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre and his wife, Deanna, herself a breast cancer survivor.
It also embraces the benefits from motorcycle ride fundraisers, high school volleyball Pink Night events and fundraisers at area bars. There are also fishing tournaments, chili dumps, a Witch Fest and Bras of the Bay, to name a few.
New this year will be a Christmas Tree Jubilee at Vandervest Harley-Davidson in Green Bay during November. Businesses sponsor a decorated tree to give to a local family in need.
If you or someone you know is receiving breast cancer treatments in Kewaunee and Brown counties and is interested in support from Ribbon of Hope, visit ribbonofhope.com.
There are also women on the Ribbon of Hope committee who have survived breast cancer and can answer questions or lend emotional comfort; for more, call 920-676-4673. If you would like to volunteer, call 920-339-9300.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Local breast cancer support organization raises $2.5 million in 15 years