Secondary Story

Hartford’s Pink Gem

By Gloria Hafemeister, Photography by E & M Photography

Orange used to be the color of Halloween, but in the Hartford area, pink is the new color of pumpkins. That’s be¬cause of a group of women and men who have been directly impacted by breast cancer are using pumpkins to reach out to help others in the same situation.

They are holding the second annual Pink Pumpkin Run on October 1 in downtown Hartford. It includes a 5K run and a two-mile walk as well as a kids’ Downtown Dash. The run is a kick-off of month-long activities that focus on raising funds and creating awareness for individuals and families touched by cancer.

“Our mission is to help local families affected by breast cancer by providing basic daily needs in the form of gift cards and services,” says organizer Erin Wilk. “We also hope to encourage, empower, and inspire our community and the families within it through our efforts.”

The idea came about after Erin’s mother, Julie Wilk, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Three years later, Julie and Erin decided to start painting pumpkins pink during the month of October to decorate Julie’s husband’s dental office, Grand Avenue Dental Care. At that time, patients could make a donation to the Avon Race for the Cure and then pick a pumpkin to take home.

She says, “The pumpkins were a huge hit, and the next year we painted enough of them to sell some at Faith and Giggles and the Perk Place in downtown Hartford.”

A few years later, in 2013, Sally Jude was diagnosed with breast cancer and during her chemo, a friend had purchased her a pink pumpkin. The pumpkin made it through chemo with her, and once recovered, she began to think about how she could make a difference and get more people involved. In the fall of 2014, Sally’s friend Karin Buhle, who at the time was director of the Hartford Business Improvement District, introduced Erin and Sally. As the two visited, the ideas began flowing.

The trio of energetic women began networking with others, and the inaugural Pink Pumpkin Run was scheduled for October 3, 2015. They contacted farmers to donate pumpkins to the cause and more people got involved to help. Besides seeing over 220 participants, the group raised over $12,000 for local families going through breast cancer. They formed a committee and began ideas of how to utilize the money they had gathered. That’s when they decided to keep it local to help support those going through what they knew so well. She says, “So far we’ve been able to give back to four fami¬lies. We want people to know they don’t have to go through this alone.”

The Pink Pumpkin organization is in the process of becoming a 501(c) (3) charitable organization that would allow donations to be tax-deductible. The funds they raise are held in an account at the First National Bank with a committee of six volunteers overseeing the effort. Along with it, they also formed a support group, “The Pink Pumpkin Survival Support Group,” that meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Perk Place. Erin says, “Too many support groups were a distance away, and we wanted to start an informal group that would meet right here in town.”

Many more people have become involved since they began, as the effort has grown to more than just the walk-run. Other committee members are also involved, like Mary Kowalke, a nurse and Jazzercize teacher, who helps participants warm up before the walk. Diane Maye can also be found on the committee; she is owner of Salon Effervescence in Hartford, which does hair donations all October to kids with Cancer. Linda Mehlum, another committee member, is a breast cancer survivor that works at Signicast. Dawn Wilhelm, whose mom is a cancer survivor, is owner of Start Right Wellness Solutions. Another person who has helped with this year’s event but who is not on the committee is Greta Swigert, the current BID director.

Erin says, “These ladies do everything. They reach out to businesses, hang posters, map the route for the run and walk, look for silent auction items, coordinate picking up and dropping off pumpkins and painting them, and they run in the event.

They have enlisted help from the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County to help decorate the pumpkins. The pumpkins will be for sale at Grand Avenue Dental, Perk Place, and Faith and Giggles Gift Shop. There are a variety of verses and designs on the pumpkins, and people can choose one that is appropriate for the individual who will receive the pumpkin. Businesses that donate $20 or more to the cause will get a free pumpkin, custom-designed to fit the theme of their business. Erin says, “We have some very talented people who come up with some very clever slogans and designs.”

They are getting pumpkins this year from a variety of sources, including Cedarburg Creek Farms, who donated 30-40 pumpkins; Koepsell’s Pumpkins who donated 30 pumpkins and gave discounts on the rest; Nichols Farm in Kewaskum who donated $50; and LammScapes, Jackson, who donated ride certificates for the silent auction.

From a humble beginning as just a few pumpkins decorating a dental office, the group has grown to now handle hundreds of pumpkins. Their aim is to make the area a sea of pink, rather than orange, this Halloween.

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