A party to celebrate the life of local man Chris Wagner netted $73,000 – and counting – for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Wagner passed away in April at age 40 after a four-year battle with an aggressive form of leukemia. Shortly before the end of his life, his wife Julie Cullen asked him what his final wishes were.
True to his nature, Cullen said, Wagner didn’t want a funeral; he wanted a party so friends and family could come together to celebrate his life and raise money for the society working to find a cure for the disease.
And come together they did, hosting a July 27 benefit at Big Chill Beach Club that attracted more than 300 attendees, including those who traveled from as far away as West Palm Beach, Fla., Charleston, S.C., and even Hawaii.
“All of our friends were together,” Cullen said. “It wasn’t sad at all, even though we cried.”
Quite a few guests didn’t even know her husband, Cullen said, including one man who presented her with a $1,000 check in memory of his wife, who also died of leukemia.
Wagner was a Beebe Healthcare ER nurse, and Cullen is a Bayhealth physician, so representatives from both hospital staffs were on hand to support their co-workers and contribute financially, Cullen said, and Big Chill also donated 15% of its food and beverage sales to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“I feel nothing but overwhelming pride,” Cullen said. “We followed all of his wishes, had an amazing party and raised significant funds for an amazing foundation.”
Wagner was very connected to people and nature, Cullen said to event attendees on the evening of the fundraiser.
“He is still connected with all of us here today, and he wanted to shine light and warmth into this world,” she said. “If we can spread some of that joy and happiness and love that Chris brought into this world, then Chris’s life had more purpose and meaning than he would’ve been able to fathom.”
Silent auction items included original artwork by Developing Artist Collaboration founder Leah Beach, fishing trips with Captain’s Lady Charters and Bill Slayer Sportfishing, local business and restaurant gift cards and baskets, and Wagner’s own surfboards and fishing rods.
Because the event raised more than $50,000 for the society, Cullen said a specific grant and research study will be named in her husband’s honor.
“This amount has honored us with The Hero Impact Award,” Cullen said. “It will create a research portfolio linked in memory of Chris. I will get to review a list of potential research portfolios to put our raised donations toward. We will likely be focusing on leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant research.”
Donations are being accepted until Friday, Oct. 7, on Wagner’s fundraising page at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night website; go to bit.ly/3u4ZaGX.