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They may dress up in sparkly, sequined teal outfits, wear silly wigs and headgear and spend their time organizing races, closet swaps, silent auctions and ugly sweater contests — but they’re nothing to laugh at when the Redneck Riviera chapter of Wonderful Wacky Women start raising funds.
In addition to the fun they spread just by showing up — at their own races or at events like Mitchell Cancer Institute’s GO Run — they collect serious funds for cancer research.
By the end of this year’s events, Jimmie Sue Walters estimates they’ll have raised more than $250,000. Walters is the leader of this organization that has a board of directors but otherwise keeps events open to anyone who wants to participate.
“We’re not a membership organization,” she says, “but we have 600 people on our mailing list.”
“We strive to keep being Wacky Women stress free,” says Walters. “Our mission is to raise awareness and research dollars by Making Waves to Wipe Out Ovarian Cancer. We encourage participation when your schedule allows and invite you to bring family and friends to all events.”
Cancer care and research has always been the target, says Walters. The first year, back in 2009 and before the group was formally organized, they raised $5,000 to support a child who was battling cancer. For the next couple of years, they supported various organizations that were helping in the fight. Then, in 2012, came
the current plan — splitting their earnings between Mitchell Cancer Institute and Sacred Heart Cancer Center in Pensacola. It’s a good compromise for an organization that sits on the Florida-Alabama line, with participants from both states, Walters says.
They sponsor events of their own — like the Teal Tingleboots Silent Auction and Wacky Boot Fundraiser at the Flora-Bama on Sept. 14.
They are the beneficiaries of events organized by other groups — like the Firefighters Fire & Iron Motorcycle Club race and parade at the end of August that raised $5,600 in support of the Wacky Women cause.
And sometimes they participate in events that others have created — like MCI’s GO Run, starting on the Mitchell Center lawn at the foot of the Moulton Tower on main University of South Alabama campus Sept. 17.
Wacky Women bring a load of fun to everything they do, Walters says, but their inspiration came from inspirational writer and artist Suzy Toronto.
Walters recalls the days in 2009 — she was recently retired from AT&T and enjoying the beach life at Perdido Key when she began to feel the need to do something valuable for her community. A 20-year thyroid cancer survivor, she’s always been involved in cancer-related fundraising. But she began to consider her own nonprofit.
Sitting on the beach with friends, she broached the idea, and they all quickly pronounced their willingness to participate.
They toyed with name ideas – BFF, text talk for Best Friends Forever, was one option they considered and discarded — before Walters thought of Toronto’s work. She had just finished two of the author’s books. So she called for permission to use the Wacky Women title and received an ok the next day.
“Suzy is one of the most beautiful people (inside and out) I’ve ever met,“ says Walters. “She is a great person, great mentor, great artist, great writer and the best title sponsor you could ever ask for. ‘The Sacred Sisterhood of Wonderful Wacky Women’ is in her book titles, and she lent the name to us to become the name of our organization, The Sacred Sisterhood of Wonderful Wacky Women, Redneck Riviera Chapter, Inc., which we shorten to Wonderful Wacky Women. Then, because of husbands and boyfriends who were always with us and helping out, we added and The Mighty Men Who Love Us.”
Not only did Toronto lend the book title for use as the group’s name, she has participated in the group’s signature events each year — showing up in sparkly teal like all the others.
Why teal? It’s the ribbon color for ovarian cancer — the one that sneaks up on retirement-age women.
At first, the Wonderful Wacky Women took on the teal in honor of Candy Swanson, a friend of Suzy Toronto who had recently died from the disease.
But the response was overwhelming from women who were struggling with ovarian cancer or had lost friends to it, and it gave the group its lasting colors.
“The sisterhood we have created since 2009 has brought lots of us even closer,” says Walters. She mentions especially Darlene Webster, an entrepreneur living on Perdido Key, a board member of Wonderful Wacky Women, a 10-year-plus survivor of ovarian cancer. “Darlene’s knowledge of ovarian cancer and the experiences she went through during her treatment plan are very helpful to newly diagnosed patients who have become involved with the WWW,” Walter says. “Just knowing you have a group of wacky women ‘Who Care’ is so reassuring.”
Since the group has been supporting MCI, Walters has had the chance to talk with MCI’s director, Dr. Michael Finan, and learn more about the disease. “I asked him why it’s so difficult to treat, and he explained that it doesn’t raise its ugly head till it’s already stage 3.”
Symptoms are usually vague anyway, she notes.
“You know how us women are,” Walters says. “We say, ‘Oh it’s just menopause’ and put off calling the doctor. One week turns into a month, and before you know it, it’s been a year and you haven’t done anything about it.”
So in the interests of encouraging women to follow up on those vague symptoms and check in with their doctors earlier rather than later, the Wonderful Wacky Women will don their teal togs once again this fall and spread smiles among the participants in the GO Run.
There’s no predicting their costumes — as Walters says, they “change ’em up every year.” And mid-September is often still too hot for fun touches like her teal-streaked blond wig.
But she and her compatriots will definitely be there.
Just look for the teal tresses and dresses and running gear — and the gang that’s just happy to be there helping out, however they can.
To sign up for the GO Run, visit the website at www.usamci.com/gorun.
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