The historic Boehne home on Lincoln Avenue just west of U.S. Highway 41 still sits with the grandeur it possessed 100 years ago. Built in 1912 by John W. Boehne, a former Evansville mayor, U.S. Congressman, and public servant, the Monticello-style, 7,100-square-foot mansion has worn many hats — a refuge for the American Legion Post, a luxury home for an older couple, a college fraternity house, a law firm, and most recently, Rose Marie’s Gift Shop. In a hopeful spirit, a local nonprofit organization dreams of adding their name to the long list of occupants.
With a detailed vision, Gilda’s Club Evansville, a support program for cancer patients and their families, sees the home’s potential: activity rooms designated for teenagers, a library, a creative studio for arts and crafts, yoga classes in the backyard, a teaching kitchen and wellness center in the old carriage house, and a play area where young children can put on puppet shows and play with other kids.
Founded in memory of Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, the national organization is one of the few cancer-affiliated programs that offers support for the entire family. When longtime Evansville news anchor Randy Moore lost his wife Ann to cancer in 2009, he vowed to carry on her dream in bringing Gilda’s Club to Evansville. Moore gave our readers the initial look into the organization in two stories he wrote for Evansville Living — “A Love Story” (July/August 2008) and “The Arms of Love” (September/October 2010) — where he wrote of the effects cancer had on his own life. “The awful impact on those she loved,” he wrote in his 2010 story, “is why Ann decided to bring a Gilda’s Club to Evansville.”
The families are important, says Denise Greenwell, a board member for the Evansville club, it’s critical for them to receive emotional care along with the patient. As a complement to the medical care hospitals provide, Gilda’s Club offers services designed for anyone who has been affected by cancer – the second grader who can’t concentrate at school because her mother has cancer or the sophomore college student more than 100 miles away from home where a sibling is suffering. The mission of Gilda’s Club is to “ensure all people living with cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.”
More than 12 million people currently are living with cancer in the United States, and 1.4 million more are diagnosed every year. The disease, no matter the type, is only half physical, and the other half psychological.
Once in the clubhouse, guests initially meet with a licensed clinical social worker where they discuss their personal needs. They are offered a customized, one-on-one program. If they need nutrition assistance, Gilda’s Club will bring in a nutritionist; if there’s a request to learn more about a specific treatment, Gilda’s Club will host lectures with an appropriate doctor. There also will be support groups, lectures from medical professionals, mentoring sessions, movie nights, and potluck dinners. The social aspect of gathering in one place with one commonality is a key service Gilda’s Club provides. “Once cancer is in the family,” says Greenwell, “your whole social network sort of implodes. People don’t know how to talk to you.” From avoiding conversation entirely to chronic cases of “What can I do?” to the curious friends who want every detail, it is often difficult to talk about cancer. With the resources and social interaction at the clubhouse, children, parents, siblings, and friends learn to deal with their own questions and forget, if only for a while, about the emotional effects of cancer.
That’s among the reasons the mansion on Lincoln Avenue is ideal. Although Gilda’s Club is a big supporter of the medical resources provided by hospitals, it’s important for a clubhouse to be located outside of a hospital campus. Gilda’s Club needs space to provide a proper, home-like sanctuary away from the blood tests and exams.
Centrally located near Downtown, the clubhouse will be more accessible to everyone in the city as well as the Tri-State.
To learn more about Gilda’s Club Evansville, visit www.gildasclubevansville.org.