Gavers Community Barndance to celebrate 20 years raising funds for cancer

Gavers Community Barndance to host annual fundraiser in Woodstock

When cancer survivor Steve Gavers started his namesake barndance in 2000, he wanted to have a good time while raising money for cancer research and education.

The goal was to have 300 people show up and raise $10,000. However, the event had 923 people attend and raised $125,000, said Denise Ponstein, vice president of Gavers Community Cancer Foundation.

The event has been growing ever since.

To date, it has raised $7.8 million, and Ponstein said it’s expected to pass the $8 million mark this year as the event reaches its 20-year milestone.

The money the foundation has raised has gone to many organizations, including Northwestern Medicine, Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund at Rush University Medical Center, Family Health Partnership Clinic, Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Testicular Cancer Foundation, Ponstein said.

“Our patients have benefited from the Gavers Barndance for 20 years because many of its proceeds have gone toward health care right here in our community,” Sarah Theriault, director of the Northwestern Memorial Foundation, said in a statement.

One of those beneficiaries is Sherri Sahs-Valencic, a longtime barndance attendee, former Woodstock resident and cancer survivor.

Barndance brings people together to help those who are battling cancer, said Sahs-Valencic, 58.

Her battle began with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 15, for which she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Then, in 2007, Sahs-Valencic had open-heart surgery for a quadruple bypass.

Sahs-Valencic was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and had a double mastectomy. That same year, she was a recipient of the Never Be Defeated award at Barndance.

Each year, the board gives out Never Be Defeated awards, honoring survivors, caregivers and those who have passed, Ponstein said. This year, there will be four recipients of the award.

Sahs-Valencic, who has been in remission since 2016, feels that Barndance has given her a chance to contribute to something, and has given her a chance to make a difference in other cancer patients’ and survivors’ lives.

Gavers is a survivor, too. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994 and ended treatments in 1995.

The idea for a barndance originated from a conversation Gavers had with his grandfather, who told Gavers that he used to meet people through barndances.

Running the event for the past 20 years has been very humbling, Gavers said, and takes a lot of teamwork. Gavers said he hopes young people will get involved to keep the event going.

A commitment to make
a difference

The event has become a classic example of volunteerism, Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said, and there is a constant commitment from the community to make a difference.

“I could not be more proud of Steve Gavers and his colleagues,” Sager said.

The Gavers foundation board is 100% volunteers, Ponstein said. The foundation currently has more than 400 volunteers working on the upcoming event.

“Steve gets a lot of calls from guys and girls that just want to talk, and when you know that you’ve helped one person, that’s why you keep doing it,” Ponstein said. “When I’m up to 1, 2 in the morning, which I will be between now until Barndance, you just do it, because you want that for people.”

The event is a chance for people battling cancer to forget about their struggles and have fun, Ponstein said.

Gavers called the event an “exhilarating” and “electrifying” experience. Everyone gathers under a large tent, 110 feet by 330 feet with tables set up, and can eat, drink, dance and have a good time.

This year’s event

The Gavers Community Barndance will be from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday at Emricson Park, 1313 Kishwaukee Valley Road. Participants must be 21 or older to attend. Tickets are $50 and include food and music. There is a maximum of 2,500 people for the event. A cup of beer will be cost $20, with free refills.

Top 40 country music group Bella Cain will headline the event, with Chasing Scarlet opening. There also will be a guest performance by Shawn Schell.

There will be a 50/50 raffle, and the winner does not need to be present. Tickets are $5 each or five for $20 and can be bought online or at the event. There also will be a live auction and a bucket raffle.

For information and where to buy tickets, sign up to volunteer or make a donation, visit gavers.org/barndance.

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