Providing a Measure of Hope Annual Cancer Society Gala Will Feature a Night at the Circus

Spring is a time of growth, renewal, and hope. It’s also the time for the American Cancer Society’s 2009 Evening of Hope Gala.

This year’s theme is Cirque de Cure, and the May 9 event will not only be an elegant affair, but an opportunity to support cancer research and programs for patients and their families.

The 17th annual black-tie gala will feature dinner, dancing to music by the Passport Band, a silent auction, and amazing acts performed by the Nimble Arts Circus Production Company.

“The evening has developed into the premier charitable social event,” said David Glidden, regional president for TD Banknorth, who co-chairs the gala with Gary Fialky, a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Bacon Wilson. “It’s clearly for a great cause, but on top of that, there’s 500 of the Who’s Who in Western Mass. who come out for a great night of fun and entertainment. And everyone loves the circus.”

Fialky, who founded the gala, agrees. “People really do enjoy it,” he said, adding that the gala has grown significantly over the years.

The event has raised more than $946,000 for the ACS, used to fund research, education, advocacy, and patient services.

It will be staged in the MassMutual Center in Springfield, and will kickoff with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. During the hour, Nimble Arts circus performers will give guests a preview of their main act, which will be staged during dinner, which begins at 7.

A silent auction will feature a wide array of trips, gift certificates, and items, ranging from a diamond necklace to Red Sox and Patriots tickets, a house for a week on Cape Cod, a trip to the tropical island of St. Martin, and more.

Tickets are $150. For more information on sponsorship opportunities or to order tickets, call Traci Heath at (413) 493-2127, visit, or E-mail

Setting the Pace

The presentation of the Omar T. Pace Award will be a highlight of the evening. Pace was a cancer surgeon who spent 53 years volunteering his time, talent, and expertise to the ACS. The award is given in his name to an individual who has made a significant difference in the fight against cancer and the lives of cancer patients and their families.

This year, Springfield College President Richard Flynn will be feted.

Flynn has been involved with the ACS for more than 25 years and participated in numerous fundraisers. Over the past 10 years, Flynn has also spearheaded pink-ribbon campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer and donated space at Springfield College for the annual Relay for Life of Greater Springfield.

“He and college have donated their track and millions of dollars of in-kind related services,” said Glidden.

Past Omar T. Pace award recipients include Fialky and Glidden, as well as Larry Grenier, the D’Amour family, Sr. Mary Caritas, Mark Tolosky, Emanual “Manny” Rovithis, Kevin Vann, David Bartley, F. William Marshall Jr.; Judith Plotkin-Goldberg, Andrew Scibelli, Timothy Crimmins Jr., U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, and George Ditomassi Jr.

The gala was founded by Fialky, an only child who lost his mother to a brain tumor in 1990. The ACS provided her with invaluable help, which included drivers, a wig, and other services.

After her death, Fialky was asked to participate in the ACS ‘Jail and Bail’ fundraiser, where he met the ACS executive director and pledged his continuing support. “I wanted to do more,” Fialky said, adding that he felt it would be beneficial to get the business community involved.

His idea was to stage a dinner to honor someone who had made a real difference in the fight against cancer. The result was the first ACS Recognition Dinner, which honored Dr. Omar T. Pace.

Fialky was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago and had “what is hoped to be a successful surgery.” He has also lost friends to cancer. “It’s an insidious, cruel disease that knows no bounds and has to be eradicated,” he said. “It’s heart-wrenching to watch someone die from this.”

The dinner-turned-gala was initially held mid-week, but is now staged on a Saturday night. “The committee wanted to make it a black-tie function and social event that recognizes the need for ongoing research as well as the progress that has been made. Research has allowed the number of cancer survivors to increase, and the statistics are much more encouraging than they were in the past,” said Fialky.

Glidden, who has co-chaired the event with Fialky for years, has lost two siblings to cancer. His 33-year-old brother, Chuck Glidden, died in 1993 and his 36-year-old sister, Laura Glidden-Kane, lost her battle in 1997.

“They were tremendous people, and the losses were tragic to our family, their spouses, and children. But the ACS was there with us every step of the way from their diagnosis through their treatment, until their passing,” Glidden said.

“This event has special meaning to me, and I am deeply involved with the ACS,” he added. Glidden is on the ACS New England Board of Directors and is a national delegate and national ACS stakeholder.

The circus acts slated for the gala will be performed by Nimble Arts, a circus production and teaching company founded in 2003 by Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion in Brattleboro, Vt. The identical twins specialize in aerial acrobatics, and their performance, staged 15 feet in the air, will be inspirational.

It will include the sisters’ famed double trapeze act, “Dos Chicas,” and an acrobatic maneuver by Serenity and her husband, Bill.

“My sister and I specialize in hanging from each other’s feet, which showcases the identical twin quality with mirror imaging and tenderness between sisters,” said Elsie. In the husband-and-wife maneuver, Serenity will stand on Bill’s head.

“It’s very romantic and is about grace, fluidity, and being able to trust your partner,” said Elsie. “The work we do showcases trust. And when families are dealing with cancer and all the repercussions that come with it, they need to be able to trust and get support from families and friends.”

Their appearance at the gala is especially meaningful to Elsie because she just returned from visiting a friend who has cancer. “She was a triathlete, and no one thought she would be stricken by this disease. You never know who will get it and when you will need support.”

Their presentation parallels the balancing act cancer patients and their families engage in. “Sometimes it may feel as if someone is standing on your head or hanging off your feet and pulling you down,” said Elsie. “But it’s possible to be there for whomever needs you, even though you are feeling those things.”

The sisters’ background includes a four-year tour with the prestigious Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco, Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, Circus of the Kids, the New Pickle Circus, Pilobolus, the Actor’s Gym, Circus Juventus, and more.

Closing Balance

Glidden, Fialky, and event vice-chairpersons Sue Chamberlain and Sherri Via, who have spent countless hours putting the gala together, hope people will attend the event as a strong show of support for the ACS.

“We want people to come and have a good time and realize all the hope, advancement and progress that now surround the ACS fight against cancer,” said Glidden.

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