American Cancer Society fundraiser a labor of love for committed volunteers

Emily Riera, Mary Anne Freeman and Allison York

Emily Riera, Mary Anne Freeman and Allison York

Generations spend countless hours on annual Cowford Ball

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

What else but a labor of love could result in more than $6.6 million raised in nearly 20 years for one cause?
The American Cancer Society’s (ACS- Duval County) held the 18th annual Cowford Ball, Viva Las Cowford, Apr. 27 at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds with the goal of raising $525,000. Proceeds will fund patient services, prevention education, early detection and cancer research, according to Therese Yanochik, ACS Area Director for Leadership Giving.

The ACS, local cancer survivors, their loved ones, families, friends and other caring volunteers have come together to present the annual event since 1995.

Yanochik described volunteer leaders who serve year-round for the event as tireless advocates passionate about the cause. They often work side-by-side with several generations of their families for the event. This year’s Ball Chairman Susan Williams and Ball Publicity Chairman Mary Anne Freeman are typical examples.

Williams began helping the society because of her family’s experience with cancer and to spread the word about patient services ACS offers. She and co-chair husband Jay logged countless hours to ensure the vintage Vegas-style Ball was a success.

Julie Pope, Lynn McClow, Bunny Manning, Susan and Jay Williams, Francy Robertson, Randle Marchman, Hugh Owen

Julie Pope, Lynn McClow, Bunny Manning, Susan and Jay Williams, Francy Robertson, Randle Marchman, Hugh Owen

“Two years ago, Bunny Manning, chairman at the time, asked if I’d serve as vice chairman. I had been caring for my parents and had been unable to do any volunteer work. I knew nothing about the society although our youngest daughter, Carolyn, now 26, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 11. She’s fine now. Coincidentally, our other daughter, Lindsey, 30, began to volunteer at about the same time for Relay for Life,” she said. “My eyes are wide open now. I’m constantly learning about all the things ACS does. I’m on a mission to get the word out about their services and programs.” The Williams live in Ortega. Susan, the daughter of the late Idwal and Peggy Owen, grew up on McGirts Blvd.
Williams goes full force for ACS, recruiting extended members of her family to volunteer. Her brother Hugh Owen worked as one of the main builders for the event, her sister-in-law Amy Williams (husband is Jamie – they live in Venetia) worked as a financial volunteer and another sister-in-law, Mary Owen, was co-chair of the display committee. Jay’s sister Moody Baker volunteered and her husband, noted artist Tim Baker donated artwork. The Bakers live in Ortega.

“Our family is close; we don’t branch out far…and volunteering for the American Cancer Society and Cowford Ball is a family affair. They can’t get rid of me; I plan to keep right on working and since this is a year-round effort – we start planning for the next year right after the event – there’s always plenty to do!” she said. Susan trained other ACS volunteers, locally and elsewhere, in major event management.
Publicity chair for the Ball was Mary Anne Freeman, a 26-year breast cancer survivor and 25-year volunteer for the ACS. Like Susan, Mary Anne wants to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, when my twins were nine. My mother and her sister (my aunt) both died of it at age 46. My aunt’s granddaughter developed breast cancer in 2010 at age 29. After her diagnosis, we discovered that I and my twin daughters all carry the BRCA -1 (breast cancer) genetic mutation. During that testing my daughter Emily Riera was diagnosed with breast cancer – she was 31,” Freeman said. “My other twin daughter, Allison York, opted for preventive mastectomy. My daughters are 35 now and doing fine.”
Freeman is a former chair of the ACS Duval Unit. She also volunteers with the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and Reach to Recovery Volunteer Visitation Program. She’s an advocate traveling to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. to share her story and urge legislators to fund cancer research and raise awareness of uninsured and underserved cancer patients.

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