The annual Summer Party to benefit Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is a tradition 61 years in the making, held each year on the first Saturday in August. For the past six decades, women have played a vital role in fundraising over $100 million in support of the hospital through this glamorous summer fête.
And today it’s all about preserving the past while looking toward the future. The party, which for all intents and purposes is not just a party, but a gala, is ingrained in the fabric of Southampton.
I sat down with some of the Summer Party’s biggest supporters — Cindy Willis and Laura Lofaro Freeman, who will chair this year’s event, and Jean Shafiroff, this year’s honoree. Each of these ladies has been involved in the hospital’s fundraising efforts for years.
At the home of Cindy Willis, we engaged in a roundtable discussion. We sipped delightful iced tea in the even more delightful Southampton Village living room. The women reminisced about past parties. We looked through photos and past journals and relished the memories. They discussed the reasons they work so hard, and how strongly they believe in the mission of Stony Brook Southampton.
Willis has been involved in the hospital for 20 years. It was her move to the East End that prompted her to become involved, to be a part of the community.
She attended her first Summer Party in 1992. “I invited the only eight people we knew in Southampton, and six of them are still at our table,” she said. “We are still very close friends with that original group of people.”
For the Willises, it’s always been a family affair. Her husband Ladd is also on the board and her daughter Haley, who is now 28, is interested in joining the next generation of those involved in the hospital. “Haley was selling raffle tickets at the age of six,” she said.
She discussed how the hospital has been there for her though various phases of her life.
“What started out as a way to become a part of the community became a very important part of raising a child. Haley developed very severe allergies. She was in the emergency room three times in anaphylactic shock. They saved her life at least twice,” Willis recalled.
“I really didn’t think much about health care until I was a mother. And then I was the daughter of older parents,” she said. “I really didn’t give it much thought. Because when you’re in your teens and 20s, you’re going to live forever. Your loved ones are going to live forever. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to think about it.”
It was a woman by the name of Jean Remmel Little who got Willis involved in fundraising efforts at the hospital. “She was very much the grande dame of the whole operation,” said Willis.
Little has been instrumental to the success of the summer party for decades. She was an event chair back in 1983.
“I’ve done the raffle committee, I’ve done the silent auction committee, the arrangements committee, the invitation committee,” said Willis. She chaired the event for the first time in 2005. The theme was “Summer Safari.”
For Freeman, one of the reasons for her involvement is the need for good health care in the community. “I come from a family of physicians,” she said. “If you live here, you know the need for health care.”
Freeman has chaired the event twice. She has owned a home on the East End for 25 years, and is the owner and CEO of her own executive search firm in the financial services sector. Even with a busy career and family, it’s still important to her to find time to give back.
She referenced the hospital’s advances, like the stroke center, which she said was a “game changer for the hospital.”
“It was a cottage hospital,” she said. “I think that where Southampton hospital is today, compared to where it was, is outstanding. They can hold their own with a New York City hospital.”
She also complimented the hospital’s bedside manner and noted that the head of EMT, Darin Wiggins, was “one of the best.”
Freeman described the group as “women who banded together to get things moving.”
“What started all of this, at least for me, is you, Cindy Willis,” she said, looking at Willis who sat across the table. “I believe it was 2003. I have such incredible respect for this woman and what she’s accomplished. She really is an inspiration.”
The three women all compliment each other’s involvement, as well as those who couldn’t attend the discussion, like Little and Melanie Wambold.
“It’s a good team,” said noted philanthropist and this year’s honoree Shafiroff (see interview on the following page). “Jean Remmel asked me to chair the gala in 2010. I asked a lot of people to buy tables.”
“If we don’t have a good hospital, no one will want to live in this community full time or come here in the summer,” said Shafiroff. “We’d like to see more people that have homes out here involved in giving to the hospital. We want to all work as a team.”
“They need it,” she said of the fundraising efforts. “Charity needs to be run like a business. It’s give, get, or get out,” she said with a laugh.
They also discussed how “the service to the community goes beyond health care,” said Willis. As part of the Southampton Garden Club, and chair of its annual flower show, the hospital donated its Parrish Hall as the venue.
“The hospital was so generous to let us use the venue because it was free and open to the public. It’s a perfect example of how the hospital is part of the fabric of the community,” she said.
Shafiroff mentioned how the hospital offered its grounds to the Southampton Animal Shelter’s Unconditional Love gala, which was just held on July 20.
There’s no doubt that fundraising in the Hamptons has changed over the years, with more and more benefits popping up each summer. “When I first got involved there were three things you did in the summertime,” said Willis. “Parrish Art Museum, Fresh Air Home, and Southampton Hospital. And everything else you did all summer fit around those three dates.”
While there may be more benefits, one thing is certain, tradition and commitment to the community live on at the Stony Brook Southampton Summer Party.
The event will be held on Saturday, August 3, starting at 6:30 PM, and will benefit The Jenny and John Paulson Emergency Department. Honorary chairs include Georgina Bloomberg and Stanley and Fiona Drukenmiller. The emcee for the evening will be Chuck Scarborough. For tickets and more info, visit www.southampton.stonybrookmedicine.edu.