The Ellen Hermanson Foundation Celebrates 25 Years

Clockwise from top: Cristina Cuomo, Edyle O'Brien, Patti Kenner, Kristen Dahlgren, Courtesy Ellen Hermanson Foundation. Julie Ratner, Photo: Lenny Stucker

This year the Ellen Hermanson Foundation celebrates 25 years of funding breast health care on the East End. They’ve given countless members of the community access to state-of-the-art care and empowered many affected by cancer. Lives have been saved because of the tireless work the foundation has done. And that’s reason to celebrate.

The foundation was named in the memory of Ellen Hermanson, a warrior who lost her battle with breast cancer in 1995 at the age of 42. She fought against breast cancer as an activist and advocate. This is her legacy.

“Breast cancer does not take a break, and neither will we,” said president Julie Ratner, Ellen Hermanson’s sister. One message that is clear is that even though we’re still going through a global pandemic, cancer doesn’t stop, and funds are still greatly needed.

While COVID-19 has changed the landscape of summer fundraising on the East End, that has not stopped this local effort from fundraising for those in need. “No one is turned away due to an inability to pay,” says Ratner.

Two major fundraisers that the foundation hosts each year are its summer gala and Ellen’s Run, a 5K race in Southampton. This year the gala is going virtual and set to take place on Saturday, July 25, at 6:30 p.m. The virtual race will be held August 16 to 31.

“It all began last year after our gala, when we starting planning for the 25th anniversary that was to be this summer,” says Ratner. The evening and will honor “four extraordinary women,” she says.

Those women are Cristina Cuomo, Kristen Dahlgren, Patti Askwith Kenner and Edyle O’Brien. Co-chairs of the virtual gala are Jean Shafiroff and Jodi Wasserman. The program will feature emcee Lucas Hunt as well as comedy with Jessica Kirson and Tovah Feldshuh.

There will also be guest appearances by Hillary Clinton, Toby and Itzhak Perlman, and George Stephonopolous.

Hunt promises an “action packed half hour.”

“It’s an honor to be able to participate in something that serves women and community—mothers, sister, daughters, friends, partners,” says Hunt. “My mom’s best friend and also the mother of my best friend passed away from breast cancer,” he said of why it’s so important to him.

The event is free of charge but donations are encouraged. $120 is a common donation, Ratner says, and funds at that level will pay for a mammogram for an uninsured woman.

“It’s going to be a very tight, fast moving program that we hope will be fun, entertaining, but also moving and touch heartstrings,” she continues.

“I am so inspired by what the Ellen Hermanson foundation has done over the past 25 years,” says Dahlgren, an NBC news correspondent who recently completed treatment for breast cancer.

“Unfortunately, their work now is more important than ever. I know first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting cancer patients. I was lucky to complete treatment, but there are so many facing treatment delays, or perhaps worse, not even getting diagnosed because routine screenings are being put off,” she continues. “The foundation and this year’s gala will shed a light on what so many women may be facing in the years ahead and help get vital treatment to those in need.”

A Look Back

Kenner, an early supporter who was on the Ellen Hermanson Board for the first 20 years, met Ratner as she was putting a sign up for the race on the bulletin board at BookHampton. Kenner thought it was wonderful and said she would bring 30 friends. The two became quick friends and they realized that Kenner’s birthday was the same as Ellen’s. “We knew we were going to be friends forever,” she says.

The Ellen Hermanson Foundation has hit many milestones over the past 25 years, including the founding of Ellen’s Well in 2000. Ellen’s Well addresses the immediate needs of those recently diagnosed or going through treatment for breast and gynecologic cancers.

At the heart of it are the support groups held at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, led by Edyle O’Brien.

“To me the Hermanson family and the board are the heroes,” says O’Brien, one of the gala honorees, and an oncolcogial social worker. “I feel that life affects cancer and cancer affects life, you can’t separate the two.”

Another huge milestone was when the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital was built in 2009.

“We’ve been so committed to keeping our money here on the East End of Long Island. And the opening of the breast center was a focal point for us,” says Ratner.

The foundation also works with the Phillips Cancer Center at Stony Brook Southampton, which opened last year.

Over the years, there have also been many touching memories. O’Brien recalls when a participant in the Ellen’s Run race had recently had a TRAM reconstruction surgery. Her family wheeled her in a wheel chair through the race. “It was so powerful,” she says.

The gala, which has honored the likes of Kim Cattrall, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb in the past, has always been a summer favorite.

“In the very beginning when we had no money, all of the benefits were on my lawn with barbeques,” said Kenner. It was “very low key. We started out very simple.”

It later turned into a star-studded evening. One year, Ratner recalls, rain turned the ground into a muddy mess. “Security guards were carrying women across the yard to the tent which was also full of mud. Everyone came in their fancy clothes and shoes. People just kicked off their shoes.”

Whether funding state-of-the-art equipment, providing educational outreach or psychosocial support services, the Ellen Hermanson Foundation is embedded in the East End community. It’s saving lives. It’s a force for breast cancer patients and their families.

“This foundation is really so remarkable,” says O’Brien. “You see how one women’s life and her family’s love for her, and her death so early, have created this amazing event on the East End.”

“It’s a beautiful thing that Julie has done, I have the greatest respect for her,” says Kenner.

“Julie’s love for what she does is very touching,” says Hunt. “It’s such a touching family legacy.”

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