With the Centennial Convention celebrating City of Hope's volunteer fund-raisers, we take this opportunity to highlight a few...
By Roberta Nichols
When Edith Susselman reflects back on her 96 years, she recalls the persuasive powers of her late friend, Bernice Chernove, who not only introduced Susselman to her future husband, Jacob, but also to her future philanthropy of choice, City of Hope.
Edith and Bernice met growing up in New York. After Bernice married David Chernove and moved to California, Edith came to visit – and stayed. The Susselmans lived in Beverly Hills for 35 years.
When the Chernoves moved from Los Angeles to Florida in 1980, “Bernice kept trying to convince me and my husband to move there.” Bernice had learned about a cancer research hospital in California called City of Hope and was so inspired that she started a fund-raising chapter on its behalf. She would serve as its president for 26 years.
The Susselmans came to visit the Chernoves during City of Hope’s New Year’s Weekend in 1992. Intending to stay only a few days, they instead bought a home near their friends in Coconut Creek, about 40 miles from Miami. “It just happened at the right time,” she said. “Where we were in California, while the surroundings were beautiful, a lot of our friends were leaving – one way or the other.”
“Florida was great. We had all the amenities you want, college around the corner, all kinds of classes and clubs. Everybody here at that time was like, instant friendship. When I moved here, Bernice didn’t wait two minutes,” said Susselman with a laugh. “I had to join the chapter.”
Today, as then, some initially may join the organization to make new friends in the Florida social scene, but many eventually transform into devoted champions for City of Hope, Susselman said.
Recruiting new donors is challenging given the number of competing charities and causes. “That’s still become a big problem here,” she said from her home in Florida. “We have people say to us all the time, ‘Why should we become active in someplace in California, when there are so many charities here?’
“The argument is it’s the research that’s disseminated all over the world, not just in California. There are many people right here in Florida being helped by medications that came out of the City of Hope,” Susselman said.
When she meets new people, she often asks, “Do you belong to City of Hope? If you don’t, why don’t you? Is there anybody you know who isn’t affected in some way by cancer?”
“I know a few people who have been cured at City of Hope,” Susselman said. When speaking to potential donors, "we say that we ourselves are very impressed with it,” she said. “A very large percentage of what we collect goes to research and to the hospital.”
In 2011, Susselman was honored with a leadership award by City of Hope’s Florida regional office for raising more than half a million dollars for City of Hope. The chapter hosts a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, including card parties, outings to the Hard Rock Café, luncheons and cruises.
Since its inception the Bernice Chernove Wynmoor Chapter has raised nearly $2 million for City of Hope.
It promises to remain thriving thanks to members like Susselman, who continues to lead by example. She not only has helped secure numerous gifts for City of Hope, but “I’ve put my money where my mouth is by creating charitable gift annuities and making a bequest to City of Hope. You can put money into a fund where you get very good interest and a tax deduction,” she added.
Susselman lost her husband, Jacob, in 2002 and dear friend Bernice in 2006, but keeps busy investing her time in City of Hope.
Only days before the Centennial Convention, she said she was looking forward to coming to City of Hope to reunite with fellow fundraisers and get first-hand progress reports from researchers that she can take back to Florida.
Susselman, who has had a double mastectomy and colon cancer, says she has great faith in the work being done at City of Hope. “The feeling you get about the hospital is that the patients come first,” she said.
“I believe that the researchers at City of Hope will be the ones to cure cancer,” Susselman said.