A senior vice president at Bank of America for 30 years, Maija Eerkes had been living a “life of leisure” for just a few months after retiring in 2005 when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was stunned. But she decided to face the challenges ahead as she would the sometimes seemingly insurmountable goals she faced in the corporate world: develop an action plan, stay focused and visualize a positive outcome.
And her best friends were there to help her do it.
One longtime friend and former Bank of America colleague, Ann Mix, decided Maija should have an event to look forward to at the end of her treatment, and as a philanthropist at heart, she also very much wanted to do something tangible to support the pancreatic cancer cause.
Her event idea turned into a gala fundraiser, and in 2007, “Celebration of Hope” in Seattle was born.
Ann said that in the short-term, she knew she wanted to create an occasion that would give Maija hope.
“My goals that first year were to see her and her family enjoy an uplifting evening and to raise funds to help eradicate pancreatic cancer,” Ann said.
After finding the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network online, Ann arranged to meet with its president, Julie Fleshman, to see if the organization could put the funds raised to significant use. She found the organization to be the perfect nonprofit partner.
Likewise ready to lend a hand – and her heart – to the gala was Maija’s best friend of 35 years (and also a former Bank of America colleague), Jan Rosenlund. Known for her attentiveness and sharp eye for detail, Jan took on the role of Data Chair for the event for the next 10 years.
“What started as a fundraiser put on by a group of business associates-slash-girlfriends has become an event that has had a significant impact on raising awareness for the disease, the cause and our local healthcare centers of excellence,” Jan said.
Over the years, every aspect of the event was given a personal touch and taken care of by the core organizing team – which grew from Ann and Jan to a group of 10 organizers – and also included the support of local volunteers from the local Puget Sound Affiliate of volunteers.
Maija recalled that the first event and each one after was extremely positive and uplifting, and as an added bonus, it also provided the perfect opportunity for her friends to connect.
“If Ann and our group of close girlfriends hadn’t had the intense work of the gala to further cement our bond and keep us connected over the years, we might’ve drifted apart in retirement,” she said.
The intense friendships that fueled the passion and dedication of Celebration of Hope have led to more than $3 million raised for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since its inception.
“Every year at the gala, we hear people say, ‘Thank you for giving me and my family hope.’” Maija said. “That’s critical and a main reason for why the gala continues. Hope is paramount.”
Ann’s short-term goal for Celebration of Hope – to lift up her good friend Maija – in turn has lifted the pancreatic cancer community.
Would you like to organize a fundraiser event to honor a loved one? Learn more about our Wage Hope My Way program at www.pancan.org/diy today.
Read more of Maija Eerkes’ story here.