Festival of Trees Benefits Blood Cancer Patients
Public invited to enjoy and bid on theme-decorated Christmas trees, sports memorabilia and many more goodies while listening to musicians, visiting Santa, face painting and entering the bone marrow registry.
Surveying the hotel atrium filled with themed Christmas trees and auction items, Karen Wenzel said Friday that her daughter Lindsay would have loved it.
"She'd be totally smiling," Wenzel said. "She was always caring about other people."
A year after their daughter Lindsay Lopez died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Karen and Gene Wenzel are channeling their grief into hope — hope that their holiday fundraiser on Saturday and Sunday can help raise money to support research and patient services for those with blood cancers.
Or as Karen calls them — "evil blood cancers."
Evil because they can attack children and adults young and old suddenly and without warning, and advance so aggressively the diagnosis can leave families with short times to say goodbye.
For Lindsay, it came when she was 30, happily married with a beautiful 7-year-old daughter Olivia and working at R&R Insurance in Waukesha, helping create health insurance plans for employers.
After a Labor Day 2009 weekend in Chicago to see a Harry Potter museum exhibit and a concert with her husband Jason and Olivia, Lindsay complained that her back hurt. Dizziness and high fevers followed.
And so began a 14-month rollercoaster ride of chemo treatments, bone marrow searches, a successful transplant and diagnosis of cancer-free, only to unravel and return weeks later, until Lindsay died Nov. 22, 2010.
Turning darkness into beauty
"I can't bring her back," her mother said, "but by doing this, we're carrying on her memory. We are taking our most devastating loss and making it into something beautiful."
More than 20 beautifully decorated themed Christmas trees are available for enjoyment — or more importantly for bid and charitable purchase — in the atrium of the Brookfield Suites Hotel & Convention Center, 1200 S. Moorland Rd.
The trees come with extra goodies donated by the businesses, such as Harley-Davidson sweaters, riding classes and Harley rentals; a banquet up to 100 people at Charcoal Grill and Rotisserie in New Berlin; a Princess Party at Elegance Salon and Spa; family photo shoots and nights at Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha.
Candy Bouquet donated a tree decorated with “gourmet” candy, in honor of relative Carrie Lynn Rondeau, who lost her battle against Leukemia at age 23.
There also are dozens of items including signed sports memorabilia (just one: a football signed by the 2010 Packers team), art work, local business gift baskets and even a dinner with New Berlin firefighters at theirfire house ("maybe even try on gear").
The hotel was touched by the Wenzels' story and offered for the first time to donate their large atrium for the charity event.
"I thought this was a really cool idea and we like to get involved in the community," said Lauren Bednar, assistant director of sales. "The guests have been watching over the balconies. It's just wonderful to see how everything turned out."
Karen says she would like to raise $50,000 at the event for The Leukemia-Lymphoma Society of Wisconsin, based in Brookfield. She said few know it but hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin are nationally renowned as one of two national hubs for blood and marrow transplant research and services — the other being Houston.
"We want to help what's happening right here in Milwaukee," she said. "All funds will help local families."
Trees of Hope WI
Where: Atrium of Brookfield Suites Hotel & Conference Center, 1200 S. Moorland Rd.
On the Web: treesofhopewi.org
SATURDAY Nov. 19
9am-7pm: All Trees, Holiday Décor and Silent Auction items available for viewing and bid
10am-5pm: Blood Center of Wisconsin Marrow Donor Registry Drive (just a cheek swab to get on the registry)
9:30am-2:30pm Facepainting by Academy Waukesha/Paul Mitchell School; Temporary Tattoos
10am-3pm: Pictures with Santa
Noon-1pm: Girl Scout Caroling
2:30pm-3pm: Singer Nikki Swikert
3pm-4pm: Eight of Hearts – Barbershop Octet
5pm-7pm: Guitarist Nick Bauer
SUNDAY Nov. 20
9:45am-10:45am: New Berlin Eisenhower High String Quartet
11am-1pm: Linda Kelly (Singer and Piano) As Seen on America’s Got Talent
1:30pm-4:30pm: Gary Cross (Longtime Wisconsin Country Singer)
2pm: Tree Auction and Silent Auction Ends
3pm-7pm: Winning bidders will be notified and items available for payment and pickup