When it came time to choose the honorees for the Ellen P. Hermanson Foundation’s annual “Back in Black” fundraising gala, two individuals who have been longtime supporters of the organization stood out for their consistent commitment to helping women and families affected by breast cancer on the East End of Long Island.
Tony and Emmy Award-nominated actress Tovah Feldshuh, and John Graham, the executive director of Hampton Racquet, will be recognized at this year’s gala, an outdoor affair at Hampton Racquet set for Saturday, August 28, at 6:30 p.m.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. The Foundation helps underwrite state-of-the-art medical equipment and breast cancer screenings at the breast center and at other locations in Hampton Bays and East Hampton, where over 12,000 screenings were performed in 2019. Proceeds also benefit Ellen’s Well, a free psycho-social services program that provides support groups, transportation, bi-lingual/bi-cultural outreach, and emergency medical grants for breast cancer patients. No one is turned away from The Ellen Hermanson Breast Center for lack of insurance or inability to pay.
The support of people like Ms. Feldshuh and Mr. Graham has made it possible for the foundation to have such a wide-ranging positive impact in the community.
Ms. Feldshuh (pronounced “FELD-shoo”) is a six-time Emmy and Tony nominee known for TV roles on “The Walking Dead” and “Law and Order,” and her Broadway portrayal of Naomi Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” She also recently released a memoir, “Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played.” Ms. Feldshuh says that years in the show business industry have taught her the importance of relationships. She met Julie Ratner — who founded the Ellen Hermanson Foundation to honor her sister, who died of breast cancer in 1995 at the age of 42 — years ago through a mutual friend, Patti Kenner. She said she’s always been impressed by the way Ms. Ratner has cultivated and nurtured the kinds of relationships that have made the foundation a success. Recognizing that, she says, has made her eager to support the foundation.
“Julie is open-hearted, non judgmental, and she’s very kind,” Ms. Feldshuh said in a recent interview. “She made promises to her dying sister and she kept them.
“It’s wonderful everything she’s done,” Ms. Feldshuh added. “She’s helped not only people who are affected by cancer, but their immediate family as well. If I were playing her on stage, I would have a heart-centered person, someone who stood up straight and led with their chest.”
Ms. Feldshuh said she was “delighted” and in “complete amazement” when she learned that the foundation had chosen her as one of its honorees.
She said she’s supported the foundation financially for several reasons.
“First of all, it’s local,” she said. “I live in Quogue, and when I go to Southampton Hospital, it’s in front of my face. When it’s local, you can experience its direct effects.”
Ms. Feldshuh, who also puts her financial support behind organizations dedicated to fostering peace in the Middle East, said she believes the world needs more empathy, a quality she sees in abundance in Ms. Ratner.
“She has empathy for people who are struggling with [breast cancer], and we need more of that in this country,” she said.
Ms. Ratner expressed mutual admiration for Ms. Feldshuh, describing her as “a loyal, devoted and passionate friend to the Ellen Hermanson Foundation.”
“Through her art, Tovah has educated and entertained us by telling the stories of women who have defied the odds and succeeded, always in the unique woman’s voice,” Ms. Ratner said. “Tovah is boldly honest and she brings this honesty to her art. She is a role model in her unique combination of passion, honesty, brilliance, and diligence.”
Mr. Graham has also been diligent and passionate when it comes to his support of the foundation.
He first became involved with the Ellen Hermanson Foundation 10 years ago, hosting a “Play For A Cure” event at the club.
“That brought some startling statistics about breast cancer to my attention, especially as they pertained to Long Island rates,” he said. “My sister [Monica Graham] has a foundation that contributes heavily to local charities and we decided to get involved locally with a charity that was dedicated to helping women with all that comes with breast cancer issues.”
Once he met Ms. Ratner and learned more about the foundation, Mr. Graham said he was even more determined to stay involved.
“We found the Hermanson Foundation to be a charity that had help at its core and were providing help to those on the frontline deal with the maze that any medical emergency presents,” he said. “The sealer to the commitment was meeting Julie and seeing her all-out effort to make things better and more available to women regardless of financial circumstances.”
Mr. Graham said he does not seek the limelight, but is nonetheless happy to be recognized at the gala.
“I am honored to be able to point the light to those that can help do more good, as more good is always needed,” he said. “The Hermanson Foundation shares my core value that I can never do enough of — help those in need when they need it most.”
Mr. Graham has thrown his support behind other charitable endeavors, including developing Hampton Racquet’s new “Give A Kid A Summer” campaign, which helps provide tennis and multi-sport instruction to children who, due to economic circumstances, might otherwise be left out.
Ms. Ratner says that, like Ms. Feldshuh, Mr. Graham was a natural choice to be honored at the gala.
“John has been an extraordinary friend, not only to the foundation, but to countless children and families in the local area,” she said.
Saturday night’s event will feature entertainment and dancing by The Lynn Blue Band and cuisine prepared by Lan Cao, the owner and executive chef of V Cafe in New York City. Jean Shafiroff, noted philanthropist, is the gala chair, along with the Host Committee, which includes The Ellen Hermanson Board of Directors, the executive director and friends of the foundation. Robert Altmann will be the master of ceremonies for the live auction.
Advanced registration and either proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test is required to attend. Visit ellenhermanson.org to purchase gala tickets for Back in Black. For more information and questions about sponsorship, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 631-907-1950.