Minneapolis, Minn., Apr. 12 — How do you get a bunch of bikers into a ballroom? Ditching the dress code is a good way to start. And that’s what the folks at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) have done with their annual Black ’N Blue Ball held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. No need to rent a tux or buy the better half a gown; just don your best Levi’s and leathers and enjoy a night of fun for a great cause—the MDA Summer Camp.

2014 MDA Courage Award
Cindy and Bruce Olson onstage to accept the 2014 MDA Courage Award

The evening started with a silent auction featuring hundreds of items that ran the gamut from weekend getaways to Minnesota Twins tickets and even a framed piece of turf from the 1997 Super Bowl in which Brett Favre and the Packers were victorious (dangerous bringing that into Purple-and-Gold country). There was a very cool H-D custom cornhole set that had quite a few bids, and the folks at Faribault and St. Croix Harley-Davidson also donated some nice items for the silent auction including a matching pair of his-and-her Harley-Davidson leather jackets.

Once attendees were warmed up from the silent bids, pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, eight aspiring young artists threw their talents into the bidding wars in the MDA Children’s Art Auction. Ryleigh Newman, Hayley Nilson, Maddie Schut, Isabelle White, Rui Rui Bleifuss, Logan Gullickson, Kathryn Kinneberg and Luke Kostecky together raised a total of $1,600 with their creative pieces of personal artwork.

MDA Children’s Art Auction
The MDA Children’s Art Auction raised a total of $1,600 and featured framed drawings, paintings and photographs made by the youngsters

After the auction, attendees made their final silent bids before being escorted into the Hyatt’s ballroom for the dinner and evening program featuring live music from the funky jazz trio Crankshaft. Hosted by ABC 5 Eyewitness News anchors Megan Newquist and Chris Egert, the Awards Ceremony followed dinner and honored a dedicated group of people who have been instrumental in the MDA’s mission.

The first award given was the 2014 Leon Polichik Humanitarian Award to Dr. James Ervesti, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Biochemistry Department and research director for the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center located on the U of M campus. Dr. Ervesti has a long history as a champion of muscle disease research. As a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Iowa in the early 90’s, Dr. Ervesti identified the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex, which is defective in various forms of muscle disease, most notably Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). The MDA funded Dr. Ervesti’s first research grant while a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where he would eventually define the function of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex in skeletal muscle and start development of a new protein replacement therapy for DMD. His therapy has resulted in a drastic improvement in regards to quality of life, and life expectancy, for those suffering from DMD.

Crankshaft warmed up the crowd prior to the evening program

One of the more emotional moments of the night came when the 2014 Courage Award was presented to Cindy and Bruce Olson. In 1995 the Olsons’ two youngest children, Nick and Aubrey, were diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a disease that affects the peripheral nerves causing loss of feeling and coordination problems in the arms and legs, eventually attacking the heart. A video was shown that featured footage of Nick and Aubrey growing up, chronicling the duo’s life as MDA Ambassadors and their fierce determination to bring awareness to muscular diseases and the need for research. Both Nick and Aubrey passed away in the summer of 2010.

Cindy and Bruce Olson have been devoted pillars in the MDA community since the mid-90’s. They traveled the country with their children, and eventually formed the “Seek a Miracle” fundraiser in their local community where they raised $225,000 over the course of 11 years, all of which went directly to support research. As the video wound down and the Olsons shared their story, there were few dry eyes left in the audience.

The 2014 MDA Spirit Award Winner was SSG Corporation, part of the Holiday Companies Franchise group headquartered in Hudson, Wisconsin. The Spirit Award is given to an individual or corporation that has “devoted themselves to the mission of the MDA.” SSG Corporation, through its six-year partnership with MDA, has raised more than $331,600 via its Shamrock Campaign.

MDA Black N Blue Ball
Silent Auction items included everything from sports packages to spa treatments and weekend getaways

Following the awards was the main event of the evening: the Gift of Hope donation ceremony to help children between the ages of 6 and 17 enjoy a week at MDA Summer Camp. The summer camp is a place where a child suffering from muscular disease can gain self-confidence and find lifelong friends who know what it’s like to live with a disability. This year the Minnesota camp is expecting more than 200 campers, and the $36,226 raised during the Gift of Hope will go a long way in helping these children and young adults enjoy “the best week of the year.”

In all, a total of $102,585 was raised during one night in Minneapolis where the black ties and gowns were ditched for leathers and blue jeans. And all of that money raised will go directly to fund the MDA Summer Camp and research.

For more information on next year’s event visit www.blacknblueballmn.com.

(This article The Gift of Hope was published in the June 2014 issue of Thunder Press, North edition.)


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