The North Fork Breast Health Coalition honored the organization’s founders, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Antonio DeGrasse at the Third Annual Pink Pearl Gala last night at the Inn at East Wind.
The couple established to organization to assist breast cancer patients on the North Fork after Cotten-DeGrasse found what turned out to be benign breast masses in 1993 and 1995.
“Believe it or not, I never had breast cancer, though everyone thought I did when I cut off my hair,” Cotten-DeGrasse told the crowd of about 200 people gathered for the gala event.
After the couple learned that there were no local resources on the North Fork to aid breast cancer patients, they founded the North Fork Breast Health Coalition in 1997, Cotten DeGrasse said. Her husband, who passed away a year ago, went to the Riverhead Rotary Club, of which he was a member, for financial support that helped get the group off the ground.
“In 1998, Janine Nebons of Tanger Outlets was looking for a local breast cancer organization to support,” Cotten-DeGrasse said, “and thus was born the annual breast cancer walk. We owe a debt of thanks to Rotary and Tanger.”
Martha Kennelly, who presented the award, said Cotten-DeGrasse asked her to “focus on Antonio, but Antonio was all about giving women credit,” she said. “I have to make you accept praise and take credit. You two were like a mixed martial arts duo kicking ass on breast cancer.”
Cotten-DeGrasse served the organization as its president for 12 years.
Since its founding, the North Fork Breast Health Coalition, an all-volunteer group, has given out over $400,000 in grants for research and to women coping with breast cancer on the North Fork, said the evening’s emcee, Shari Einhorn, health reporter for News 12.
The group last night also honored the late Irwin Garsten and his wife Flora with the Pink Pearl Spirit Award. The award was presented by Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who praised the Garstens for their generosity and support of many charitable causes in the town. Garsten passed away in February.
Their son, William Fields, read a statement on behalf of his mother, who did not attend the event and then spoke about their company’s efforts to fund-raise for the group, speaking of finding inspiration in Apple Honda employees whose lives had been affected by the disease.
The auto dealership runs a “Pink Power” fundraising campaign each October, donating a portion of proceeds from sales and service to NFBHC. In four years it has raised more than $27,000 for the group’s “Helping Hands” grant program, which annually provides 20 to 30 grants of up to $1,000 to help breast cancer patients and offers gentle yoga classes, reflexology, massage therapy and support groups.
“We employees of Apple Honda have been inspired by the generosity and patronage of Irwin and Flora Garsten,” Fields said.
The Pink Pearl Gala is named for Pearl Philendas, who succeeded Cotten-DeGrasse as NFBHC president. Philendas died after a brief illness in 2014.
“How grateful we’ll always be for the work, hope and comfort your mom brought to so many lives,” NFBHC president Susan Ruffini, an 11-year breast cancer survivor, told Philendas’ son Chris and his wife Jessica.
“Tonight is about a celebration of life, and hope for the future,” Ruffini said. “The Pink Pearl Gala is our chance to say thank you to all of you for all you do.”
Entertainment was provided by dancers from Main Stage Dance in Greenport and DJ Phil.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl and Denise Civiletti