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Vera Bradley kicks off 11th annual Classic
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Vera Bradley is probably one of the most well known entrepreneurial success stories to come out of Fort Wayne in the last two decades. The “handbag company” founded by Patricia Miller and Barbara Baekgaard in 1982 enjoys the kind of national — well, international — recognition and success every company dreams about.
But Vera Bradley’s reputation extends far beyond the world of handbags, luggage, and accessories. The company has also established itself as an important contributor to the fight against breast cancer with the annual Vera Bradley Classic.
Now in its 11th year, the Vera Bradley Classic Golf and Tennis Tournament raises money and awareness for breast cancer research. It began after the owners lost a very good friend of theirs, Mary Sloan, to breast cancer in 1993. “The owners thought they could really do something good with the name recognition they had with the company,” says Catherine Hill, public relations coordinator for Vera Bradley and Development Director for the Vera Bradley Foundation. “So the classic started with the golf and tennis tournament in 1994. It raised around $64,000 in its first year, and they decided they might be on to something really good.”
The growth of the annual Classic was phenomenal, and with net proceeds rising significantly with each event, it was decided that the company needed to take their fund-raising to the next level, and gain more control over where the money went. Previously, the money had been given to the American Cancer Society, but in 1998, the company established the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer. “The Indiana School of Medicine approached us about making an endowment for a chair, so we made a $1.2 million pledge to IU in1998,” says Hill. Vera Bradley completed that pledge in 2002, and the company is now on a second pledge at IU to endow the Vera Bradley center for Breast Cancer Research.
More than 70% of the funding for the Vera Bradley Foundation comes from the Classic. This year, the event — which takes place this year from June 4th through June 7th — hopes to beat 2003’s goal of over $500,000.
To call the event popular is an understatement; around 420 golfers and 170 tennis players will take part in this year’s Vera Bradley Classic. Plus, the entire event is staffed by a 200-strong corps of volunteers. “The whole darn thing is run by volunteers,” says Hill. “Everything that happens, happens because of this wonderful group.” The volunteers also help to keep the costs low, which is another reason for the fund raiser’s popularity. “Because we keep the cost down, people know that when they participate or act as a sponsor, the money they contribute goes directly to breast cancer research,” says Hill.
The classic usually fills up quickly, and this year’s event is no exception (though Hill says there are still a few spots open for the Women’s 18-hole Golf Tournament). But work for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer goes on all year. One of the biggest sources of funds from individuals comes from their Ribbons For Life campaign. “It’s as simple as making a $5 donation and filling out a card in your own name or in honor of or in memory of someone,” says Hill. A pink ribbon will be personalized with the honorees name. “We hang the ribbons at a special ceremony at Dupont hospital on May 25,” Hill says. “Plus, we line the pathways at all three events during the Vera Bradley Classic with the ribbons. It’s an amazing sight.”
For information on the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, the Ribbons For Life campaign, or the Vera Bradley Classic, go to verabradley.org or call 482-4673.