By Nancy McGill
The Cattlemen’s Ball has raised $9.8 million since 1998, when it took on the Cattlemen’s Ball name and new logo, and named its benefactor — the Eppley Cancer Center in Omaha.
Prior to 1998, the ball began in 1991 with hosts Craig and Jody Haythorn of Arthur. A small group of volunteers had traveled to Texas for the “Cattle Baron’s Ball” to learn how such an event would raise funds for cancer research, promote beef and showcase ranches in Nebraska.
The Haythorns hosted the ball for two years before it was moved to Taylor. After, the ball was hosted in Harrison, North Platte and Dunning. In 1997, there was no ball.
The 1998 Cattlemen’s Ball started fresh with a zero balance in its checking account. Dedicated volunteers and donors have made the ball what it is today.
Each year, 90 percent of the funds raised fight against cancer while 10 percent is kicked back to the communities in the vicinity of where the ball was held.
“It’s probably one of the most important events we have for cancer research,” Darreld Saltzman of Shickley said. Saltzman is on the Cattlemen’s Ball executive board.
Last year, the ball was held in Custer County and raised $904,000 of which local organizations received $90,300. A total of $20,000 was retained for this year’s event at Hergott Farm, June 1-2. The theme is, “Let’s Whip Cancer.”
Of the $90,300, $48,700 went to volunteer fire departments in towns and villages throughout Custer County. Sargent Fire applied for $15,000 to upgrade its air packs and received $5,000. The communities of Merna and Dunning applied for $25,000 to purchase Jaws of Life. Each were awarded $5,000.
Fire departments also applied for funds toward a new ambulance or the cost of a new building. Anselmo VFD received $15,000 for its new building.
Benefitting the most from local funds was the Jennie M. Melham Medical Center to purchase a 3-D mammography system. It received $28,000.
The Callaway Foundation was awarded $12,000 and the Callaway Good Life Center, Inc., received $600 for IV training.
Other organizations to benefit were the UNL Equestrian team and UNL Collegiate Cattlemens group. Each received $500.
Similar in 2017 grant awards was the 2015 event that awarded $27,000 to Niobrara Valley Hospital. The Holt and Boyd counties sheriff offices, Elkhorn Valley Family Medicine, Women of Cancer, Avera St. Anthony’s Hospital, North Central District Health Department and Special Youth Challenge of Northern Nebraska also benefitted from 2015 proceeds.
Executive board vice chairman, Suzanne Jagels, said grant applications for those who helped with the ball are turned into the local chairman. The applications are first evaluated by the chairman and then turned into the advisory board.
“We like it to come through the advisory board to make sure education and health care are addressed,” Jagels said. “They’ve got to be related to a health care project.”
Even 4-H groups would be eligible to apply if the project goals are related to assisting cancer patients and their families.
“It’s a reason for youth to get involved and turn around and apply,” Jagels said. “There is no guarantee on amounts.” She added grant funds are allocated depending on what was raised.
Saltzman calls the ball a “family affair.”
“No one escapes this disease. It’s anybody and everybody,” he said. “The ball itself is really a family thing, like a big family reunion. We’re all in it together.”
Saltzman has been to every ball and can’t believe how fast the years have gone.
“Every ball is similar, but every place has something different to offer,” he said.
Jagels said the board are passionate.
“We feel our passion and cause is to work for a cure to cancer,” she said.
She is excited because the ball is in Thayer County. Jagels, who lives in Davenport, said the local board for the 2018 ball has done a great job highlighting the area. It will be hosted by Randy and Becky Hergott and their children and families, and Rob and Natalie Marsh.
“Wherever the ball is, the board generally has someone in the area to provide support. Derrald and I are able to do that,” Jagels said. “We have a wonderful turnout of people willing to donate their time to this ball. Our funds stay in Nebraska, whether locally or at the cancer center. That is unique to our ball.”
Funds are designated for researchers, grants and equipment, she added.
The executive board members are from cities and towns across the state, including Yutan, Kearney, Scottsbluff, Central City, Bartlett, West Point and Cozad.
“No one gets paid. It’s amazing how much is raised by volunteers,” Saltzman said.