If the holidays are a time for gift-giving, then Mark Puskarich’s “A Christmas to Cure Cancer” has been working to give the gift of hope since 2002.
The 11th annual concert event will be held Friday, Nov. 30, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Puskarich started the effort upon learning that his friend, guitarist Lorne VanFossen, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He gathered his former Aereon bandmates and recorded the first A Christmas to Cure Cancer CD in 2002, following its release with a concert that same year.
“We started with just word of mouth, and that first year we had about 200 people,” Puskarich said.
“It went so well we decided to do it again.”
The following year he registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. The concert has been held each year and there have been six volumes of the CD recorded, the latest last year.
The effort has raised more than $800,000 for cancer research, education and screening in its history.
Puskarich said the event not only raises funds but also serves as an opportunity to people to “celebrate and honor friends and loved ones” who have battled the disease. Through the years, Puskarich said, he has been honored to have both Chris and Stephanie Spielman participate in the event, as well as Heather Pick, Cabot Rea, Angela An, Jack Hanna, Miss Ohio Erin O’Brien and more.
And, when possible, he said, “those with musical talents or,” he joked, “aspirations,” are pulled into the CD,” including ABC6 news reporter and cancer survivor Maria Durant, who performed at the concert and on a CD.
This year marks the event’s second at the zoo, and Puskarich said the concert is designed to be even more casual than in past years, with music, food from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a martini bar, live and silent auctions and, of course, music.
WBNS 10TV news anchor Angela An is to host this year's event. “Singing” celebrity and media personality bartenders will include Johnny DiLoretto, Dino Tripodis and Chuck Strickler.
Entertainers will include local pianist Dave Powers, who will be joined for some seasonal favorites by NBC4’s Monica Day. Other musical highlights will include performances by Derek DeCenzo, a Columbus-based multi-instrumentalist and Roger Hoard, longtime country guitarist credited with influencing a young Brad Paisley.
Puskarich and now 12-year cancer survivor VanFossen also participate in the evening’s concert.
“The concert always means a lot to the musicians who provide the night's soundtrack,” Puskarich said.
The event also includes “Kids & Critters – A Zoo Adventure,” a special program for children and youth led by members of the zoo’s education staff.
The 11th annual “A Christmas to Cure Cancer” will be held under a tent in the zoo's Water’s Edge Pavilion, and begins with a social hour from 5 to 7 p.m. Musical performances will be held all evening.
Tickets are $100 per person. Attire is “holiday casual,” and layers are recommended for touring the zoo’s Wildlights display.
Cost is $25 per child for “Kids & Critters.” Space is limited and reservations are required.
For more information, visit achristmastocurecancer.org. Call 614-906-4700 for reservations.