Black and White ball ending its dance

BROWNSDALE — A Brownsdale business is retiring an event and team that have raised more than $100,000 for the Mower County Relay for Life.

After about 15 years, IBI Data’s Relay for Life team and its Black and White Ball fundraiser are both ending as committee chair Dagna Simmons retires from her post as an IBI program manager.

But IBI Programmer and Wellness Coordinator Sherry Anderson promised IBI workers would maintain a presence at the relay.

“At IBI, we donate to a lot of different causes, and we’re not going to stop,” she said. “Just because we don’t have a team, we’re not going to stop raising money for the Relay for Life. It’s near and dear to a lot of our hearts for many reasons.”

IBI Data’s Relay for Life team dates to 2000 when it was started by team leader Marilyn Prenosil, who left around 2010. Simmons took over as team leader, and IBI added the Black and White Ball that same year.

IBI’s Dagna Simmons will be retiring from her post as IBI program manager as well as committee chair for the Black and White Ball. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

IBI’s Dagna Simmons will be retiring from her post as IBI program manager as well as committee chair for the Black and White Ball. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

 

The ball quickly grew into one of the largest annual Relay for Life fundraising events in Mower county.

Over the course of 15 years, IBI’s Relay for Life team raised more than $100,000 and was often the top team in the Mower County Relay for Life. The highest year for the Black and White Ball brought in about $19,000.

The Black and White Ball was typically held in April and featured door prizes, a silent auction of at least a hundred items, and a live auction featuring a variety of items such as hand-crafted items, airplane and hot air balloon rides, and hotel stays.

The ball also featured an honor wall of anyone battling cancer or who had been lost to cancer, and anyone could bring pictures to put on the wall.

Simmons said she’ll miss having a good time at the ball and seeing all the people and past employees who would attend.

The last ball on April 24, 2015, was held in honor of Simmons’ husband Mike, a former IBI worker who passed away just a few weeks before ball. He’d been diagnosed with chondrosarcoma in February 2011 and had multiple surgeries along with chemo, radiation and other treatments. Through all his treatments, Dagna said IBI was very supportive of all the time she needed to take off to be with Mike, even if she wasn’t able to give notice. She also praised her fellow employees as a source of support.

“I can’t say enough good about that,” Simmons said.

Organizers for the Black and White Ball pose for a picture. After about 15 years the event will come to an end after this year. Photo provided

Organizers for the Black and White Ball pose for a picture. After about 15 years the event will come to an end after this year. Photo provided

But there were many good memories from the ball too.

Anderson said they’d complete the ball and have a sense of a job well done, and Simmons joked people would message her soon after the ball wanting to know how much money was raised. For many years, Simmons and Mike often stayed up into the morning hours to tally up the money raised after the ball.

Anderson recalled one year where the Simmons’ grandchildren surprised the couple by showing up at the ball after Mike was first diagnosed with cancer.

“We were all crying,” Anderson said. “At least I was.”

Though the ball traditionally required a lot of work from Simmons as the team leader, other team members took the lead that year and told Simmons and Mike not to work on the ball but to go be with their family.

Simmons also shared fond memories of the Relay for Life each summer, especially the night of the annual summer culmination, from decorating their team campsite to wearing special tie-dyed T-shirts and just sharing in a camaraderie in an event that was the culmination of their year of efforts.

“I think we’ve just enjoyed the relay events themselves too,” Simmons said.

Along with the ball, IBI held other fundraisers: it hosted luncheons within the office, Yankee Candle sales, cutlery sales, a scrapbooking crop and luminary sales, which Simmons said was probably the largest moneymaker before the ball. They also have a company store where people buy the remains of IBI products that are sold and shipped out with the sale money going to various charitable causes.

“It’s not always just Relay for Life,” Simmons said.

Simmons praised Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society for their focus on patients. It’s not just about research, as the cancer society provides patient services through things like the hope lodge where people can stay free of charge in Rochester along with different programs like Look Good, Feel Good to give women makeup tips when they’re in treatments, and there’s the Road to Recovery that helps get people to treatments, along with a scholarship drive that younger cancer survivors can receive.

A continued presence

At least for now — no one else at IBI wished to take on the many responsibilities required with leading the team.

“We all know what it requires,” Anderson said.

“We just decided then it would probably be best that we let it retire with Dagna,” she added.

Simmons said she feels bad knowing the team very well could leave a dip in funds for the relay, but she’s hoping another team comes up with an idea that may pick up the slack. IBI’s team offered for other Relay for Life teams to take on running the ball as a fundraiser each year, but no other teams wished to.

Anderson and Simmons thanked many people for their support, including IBI owner Katherine Harte, co-sponsor the Holiday Inn Austin Conference Center and DJ Alan Reed, who they praised for bringing energy to the ball.

Though the ball and team are ending, IBI will maintain some sort of a presence with Relay for Life. Simmons and Anderson said IBI may keep some form of a team in some way, just not to the extent of the team with or even before the Black and White Ball.

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