Rush Gala Illuminates








Shining the spotlight on its Fund for Excellence in Cellular Therapy, The Woman’s Board of Rush Medical Center will kick off the fall gala season on September 16 with “Illuminate” at one of Chicago’s most glorious destinations, the Theater on the Lake


Sonja Smith and Erin Ritchie, Fall Benefit Co-Chairs.

The enthusiasm, efforts, and energy shown by Winnetka-based co-chairs Sonja Smith and Erin Ritchie for the evening on the lake featuring DJ Madrid and a surprise musical performance, food stations by Food for Thought, a live auction hosted by Alyssa Quinlan of Hindman, and a super raffle with a prize of $5,000, captures the commitment of the board to what will be an international research project considered the best hope to cure patients whose cancer is resistant to current treatments.

Their goal: to raise a minimum of $500,000 for this Principal Project for the Woman’s Board. The main corporate sponsors for the Fall Benefit are Oil-Dri Corporation of America, Bulley & Andrews, and Crate & Barrel. Cindy Mancillas serves as Woman’s Board President.


Cindy Mancillas, Woman’s Board President.

“The title ‘Illuminate’ encompasses what the evening is all about: the glass windows opening out on the water at this spectacular location, people engaged in what Rush is accomplishing, the light shining on the lake, and the brightness achieved when friends come together after a long time,” Ritchie shares, adding, “This is our first in-person gala since 2019.”


Jenny Brown, Stuart Dyer, and Sophie Bross at the 2019 Fall Benefit.


Suzanne and Michael Nelson at the 2019 Fall Benefit. Photo by Widia Viti Photography.


Elizabeth Denison, Read Lanctot, and Carly Kunkler at the 2019 Fall Benefit. Photo by Widia Viti Photography.

“It really is a metaphor for all the light our medical team will bring across the world and what our intergenerational board can accomplish in funding and support,” Smith says.

The concept of “The Three Rs” is a way to understand how Cellular Therapy works: “Retrieve: physicians collect a patient’s own cancer fighting cells. Re-engineer: those cells are re-engineered and/or massively multiplied in the lab, and then Reintroduce: cells are re-infused into patients in high quantities to precision-target solid tumor cancers,” Smith explains. “This cutting-edge cancer technology will have massive global impact.”

Because of its research, RUSH will become one of the nation’s first clinical trial sites for tumor-infiltration lymphocytes, or TIL therapies, for lung cancer and melanoma.


Celalettin Ustun, MD, talks with a patient. Photo credit: RUSH.

Reaching ambitious goals and hosting forever-memorable events can only be achieved through the vision of the chief volunteers creating the event. It is hard to imagine more illuminating volunteers whose passion relates directly to RUSH’s mission and puts teamwork at the forefront: “Working with Erin has been absolute magic, a gift that keeps on giving,” Smith says. “It is a lifelong friendship.”

Ritchie echoes, “Sonya’s tenacity is matched only by her positivity. We are also very grateful for the support of the medical staff which is so accessible and supports us in our efforts.”

More than 50 Woman’s Board members serve on the Fall Benefit’s 12 planning committees representing many communities across Chicagoland. Both ARCH, Winnetka’s go-to home and design store, and Chicago’s chic Space 519 hosted recent committee gatherings, donating a percentage of proceeds to the main event.

Founded in 1884, the Rush Woman’s Board is one of the oldest women’s boards in Chicago and currently comprises more than 200 members.

“We hope that many will embrace our cause and attend September 16,” Ritchie adds. “They will be contributing to making the impossible possible, right here in Chicago, and it will have global results. For someone, for example, with stage four melanoma, what our doctors are accomplishing is like a light in the darkness.”


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