Joe, Emily and Cheryl Levanduski

Attending the Make-A-Wish Gala is a chance to rub elbows with miracles. There are young ladies who have met unicorns. Children who have hosted their families on trips to Disney and elsewhere, and pint-sized police officers and firefighters. Strides in medical technology for children who once would have been condemned to a short life have made these stories even more poignant, and the people who work on behalf of the most medically fragile children and their families even bigger heroes.
This year’s Gala was heart-tugging at every level. Held in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton, 650 guests gathered to share stories and support this life-affirming non-profit now just 40 years old. Long-time chair of the event Cheryl Levanduski is stepping down after fifteen

TJ and Jill Gliha with Tram and Matt Brandenberg

highly successful years. Attending her final chaired event with her husband and daughter, she explained that Emily, only three at the time Cheryl chaired her first Gala, is now a rising college freshman, and with their son also in college and studying in London this year, Cheryl wanted the flexibility to
travel.
“The gala takes a year,” she explained. She recalled her first contact with Make-A-Wish, a call from a then-unknown contact who admired Cheryl’s fundraising accomplishments for Cleveland State University. Over lunch with Emily sharing a plate of spaghetti with her contact’s small son, a la Lady and the Tramp, history for the local chapter of

Brad and Beth Fischer with Stacy and Jeff McKelvey

Make-A-Wish was made.
“It has been an honor to serve as Gala Chair for the past 14 years, and watch this event grow into the $1M+ event it is today,” she wrote in an email to supporters post-gala. “Together, we’ve been able to fund more than 700 wishes and impact countless lives through wish families and their communities. As I step back as Gala Chair, I hope you’ll join me in staying committed to this incredible mission. For every wish we grant, another child will soon be diagnosed with a critical illness. As long as there’s a need, we must keep doing what we can to bring hope, strength, and joy to these children and families in our community.”
Patrons enjoyed the open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres, and later an excellent sit-down dinner in the main ballroom. This event consistently

Chris and Kelly Beiswenger

has one of the largest and most intriguing silent auctions Currents sees throughout the year. From gift baskets to jewelry, certificates for salons to sporting events, arts, eating out – it’s nearly impossible to narrow one’s choices for bidding. The other hallmark of Make-A-Wish is their top-notch electronic communication from reminders of the event to the moment the auction will close. This technology, unheard of just a few years ago, helps patrons keep the pulse of this very large special event.
Make-A-Wish also sets itself apart with the number of volunteers on hand to support any circumstance that pops up. Chief among them are Make-A-Wish families more or less standing by to tell their stories. During the cocktail reception Currents ran into the Beisewengers, honored during the evening for their extraordinary contributions to the Chris Greicius Society, their involvement connected to a nephew’s illness years ago. But there is also the Codner family, sharing the story of their trip to Disney thanks to the organization, that turned into a complete celebration as they found young Tristan was cured of pediatric cancer. (Chris Greicius was the first child to have his wish delivered 40 years ago when his mother, Linda Pauling, and volunteers made him a law enforcement officer for a day after his diagnosis of leukemia.)
The 2024 Gala generated enough income to grant 110 wishes for children in the combined territory of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Similar Galas take place in Louisville, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati to support this sweeping region. Story and photographs by Rita Kueber