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Gratitude drives Snow Ball couples to excel

It can be a lot of work, but co-presidents and honorary presidents are pleased to make the annual Snow Ball fundraiser a success for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. Serving as co-presidents this year are Ken and Marilyn Hager (left), and honorary presidents Suzie Walti (center, standing), and Cathy and Chris Nigro (right).

It can be a lot of work, but co-presidents and honorary presidents are pleased to make the annual Snow Ball fundraiser a success for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. Serving as co-presidents this year are Ken and Marilyn Hager (left), and honorary presidents Suzie Walti (center, standing), and Cathy and Chris Nigro (right).

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Being a co-president or an honorary president for the annual Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas Snow Ball is not about the prestige.

It’s about the good.

For Snow Ball 2016, the co-presidents are Ken and Marilyn Hager, members of the Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood.

The honorary presidency is actually held by a family: the Rod and JoAnne Cyr Foundation. Representing the family foundation are: Susie (Cyr) Walti from San Francisco; Cathy (Cyr) Nigro and her husband Lorie, members of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood; and Chris Nigro, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park.

“Our job is to really support all the work [of Snow Ball volunteers and Catholic Charities staff], be spokespersons for Catholic Charities and do whatever is necessary to support Snow Ball and the work of Catholic Charities,” said Ken Hager. “To me, it’s an honor.”

Marilyn agreed.

“As my husband said, it is such an honor, but it is such a responsibility,” she said. “You don’t want to let people down. You want to raise as much money as possible — more than the previous year. You want to do your very best.”

Being a Snow Ball president is actually a two-year commitment. A vice-presidential couple shadows the presidential couple for a year, then assumes the presidential role one day after the Snow Ball event.

Presidents solicit donations, invite people to come to the event, promote the sale of tables, help select the food for the meal, help choose the décor, attend weekly conference call meetings, go to committee meetings and much more. In all these, they work with Catholic Charities staff and volunteers.

“The president’s role is a taxing one,” said Ken Williams, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. “They are intimately involved in the fundraising efforts. They attend every parish party that is put on for Catholic Charities to raise funds, starting September and through December. They raise awareness in their own parishes about Catholic Charities and the Snow Ball itself. They are ambassadors.”

Since its humble beginnings in 1974 as a simple potluck dinner fundraiser — then called the St. Martin of Tours Gala — the Snow Ball has grown to become the single most important fundraiser for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

“Snow Ball, in essence, represents 50 percent of the private donations Catholic Charities takes in every year,” said Williams. “It also introduces Catholic Charities to many people who wouldn’t otherwise know of the work of Catholic Charities and its ministries. Roughly one-third of the people who attend the Snow Ball do so as guests of someone.”

The Snow Ball will begin at 6 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Sheraton Crown Center Exhibition Hall, located at 2345 McGee in Kansas City, Missouri. The previous event’s goal was $2 million, and expectations are that the upcoming Snow Ball will match it. Approximately 1,700 people are expected to attend.

The Hagars are a natural choice to be the co-presidential couple. Ken Hagar was on the Snow Ball’s patron committee for a number of years and on the Catholic Charities board for roughly 10 years — serving as chairman for two of those years.

Why did they accept the presidency? Gratitude, basically.

“We know that we’ve been very blessed in our lives and this is an opportunity to help others,” said Marilyn Hager. “Catholic Charities is very close to our hearts. It does so much good work in the community, not just for Catholics. They serve people of all [religions], all races and all nationalities. There are no barriers for them.”

It was also a natural choice for Catholic Charities to choose the Rod and JoAnne Cyr Foundation and family to fill the honorary presidency.

The foundation was formed in honor of JoAnne, who died in 2004, and Rod, who died in 2005. They were members of Ascension Parish in Overland Park.

“We’ve always been very interested in what Catholic Charities does,” said Cathy Nigro. “A year before [Dad] died, he formed the foundation, and asked us to focus on children and seniors. That’s why Catholic Charities is such a perfect fit for us. They have so many services for children and seniors.”

Members of the extended family have attended the last eight or nine Snow Balls. Since so many of them live on the West Coast, the Snow Ball has become a way to draw the family together.

“Snow Ball has become an important family tradition,” said Nigro.

Although honorary presidents don’t do the same things for the Snow Ball that the presidents do, they have nevertheless interacted with the Hagars, other volunteers and Catholic Charities staff.

“Through Catholic Charities, we have met some of the most wonderful Catholic families,” said Nigro. “It’s not just about the giving and the Snow Ball, but the quality of individuals we’ve come into contact with through Catholic Charities — the volunteers, staff people and people we’ve met at Snow Ball through multiple years. It’s just a wonderful event and wonderful for our family.”

Williams, for his part, is grateful to both the presidential and honorary presidential families for fulfilling their roles.

“Both families have been associated with Catholic Charities for years — both as volunteers and supporters,” said Williams. “By choosing to associate their names with Catholic Charities, they bring us credibility and instill trust from the Catholic community, which we really appreciate.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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