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Cancer benefit set for Friday

LAKE WYLIE--Friday night promises a different look and feel from years past, but all the good will and potentially life-changing donations go to the same place.

Fat Cats Oyster Bar & Grill, 4555 Charlotte Hwy., hosts the annual Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Benefit began in the same building under previous ownership. The event includes a silent auction, DJ and food and drink beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, with bids closing on the silent auction at 10 p.m.

"Primarily the reason we're continuing to do this is because of the growth of the community and the growth of the event," said Fat Cats general manager Mickey McClendon. "This is something for the community and we want to be able to thank them for all the support they've shown us."

More than a decade ago Lake Wylie residents Joanie Grubb and Heidi Mendenhall began a partnership unmatched among South Carolina contributors to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With events at then Local Motion Bar & Grill, the pair annually rank atop the statewide list of community donators to Light the Night, a society event taking place at six locations throughout the state including Rock Hill.

In fact, last year only the Rock Hill walk listed "Shining Stars" level contributors among similar events in Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville and Myrtle Beach--donating at a minimum of $5,000. Grubb and Mendenhall, matching their state winning total from 2007, raised $22,000.

"I would love to match that this year," Grubb said.

Up for auction this year are a boat rental from Tega Cay Marina, golf at River Hills Country Club and autographed college basketballs from South Carolina, Duke and Davidson. Gift certificates and paintings, among other items, also will draw bids.

"Already we've had a really nice response, both in donations of items for the silent auction and monetary donations," Grubb said.

How much money the event will raise this year remains to be seen, especially given the soured economy of late. The event location is a microcosm of the challenge organizers face, with long-time business Local Motion closing and a brand new business in Fat Cats taking its place. For Mendenhall, that means fewer of "the regulars" and more new businesses unfamiliar with the event.

"It's harder to find people this year to donate for the silent auction, and a lot of businesses have closed, but some people are still coming through and donating," she said. "I think, though, that we're going to do great again."

State Light the Night director Phyllis Dunham knows that if donations are down this year, it will not be for lack of effort.

"Joanie and Heidi are two women with endless energy and dedication," Dunham said. "They are two of my heroes. Since they have been involved with the Rock Hill Light the Night walk they have raised $76,824."

The past couple of years, Grubb and Mendenhall raised more in one year than the entire walk did when they started.

"It's grown each year, even the walk itself," Grubb said. "There had to have been several hundred people last year when that first year we had maybe 20 people."

Still, the pair takes less pride in recognition than in the money set aside for cancer research and patient services. They also give credit to the Lake Wylie community for supporting their passion.

"Really I'm hoping somebody will beat us," Mendenhall said. "I hope people will open their hearts and give. I truly believe if you give, you'll get it back."

Other society events in the state include regattas, marathons and "turkey trots," but few individually sponsored events bring as much support together as the one in Lake Wylie. With Fat Cats opening its doors this year, the goal is bigger than offering a familiar space, McClendon said.

"We expect to see the event grow, and we want to be part of that," he said. "We want to be a part of our community here. It's going to get bigger and bigger now."

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Benefit begins at 6 p.m. Friday, at Fat Cats Oyster Bar & Grill, 4555 Charlotte Hwy. For details, call 704-634-2800.

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