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Aiding Research with Music and Softball



— April 10, 2018

Aiding Research with Music and Softball

By Violet Snow
  • One Nature’s Plus employee helps raise the funds needed to fight two deadly diseases.

One Nature’s Plus employee helps raise the funds needed to fight two deadly diseases.

When Mick Du Russel learned that his half-brother had died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease) a year after their first and only encounter, his response was to inaugurate an annual fundraiser to benefit people who suffer from the degenerative disorder. Over the past 11 years, his celebrity concerts have earned over $30,000 for the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center at Columbia University in New York City. Perhaps it is Du Russel’s upbeat, cheerful approach to life that gives him the drive to organize events that help others. “He always has a positive attitude. When he’s around, people are drawn to him,” says Denise Schwarz, president of the Ronkonkoma (New York) Chamber of Commerce, where Du Russel serves on the board and puts together an annual celebrity softball game to benefit Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. In his 22 years at Nature’s Plus, Du Russel has worked in the prepress department, reproducing the creations of graphic artists by making plates for the printing of labels, posters and promotional materials. But he developed his ease at reaching out to celebrities while writing for an online magazine. “I interviewed Olivia Newton-John, Johnny Mathis, Debbie Reynolds,” Du Russel recalls. “It was fun to do.”

Making Music to Fight ALS

For the annual music fundraiser, he starts by finding a donated venue and setting a date. Then he invites prominent musicians, who have included Denny Laine from Wings, Terry Sylvester of The Hollies, British singer Billy J. Kramer and Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke. He also gets support from people like producer Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to the US, and actress Sean Young. “We get some cool raffle items,” Du Russel says. “Someone always donates a guitar, and we have it signed by rock stars. I contact the celebrities through their agents or websites, and I get a very good response. They come for free.” He also finds a sound man and a master of ceremonies, and arranges for people to transport donated sound equipment so musicians can go onstage and just plug in. “It doesn’t take a lot of time to go online and make contacts,” he said, “I’ve been doing it so long, it goes like clockwork now.” The inspiration for the fundraisers came from a half-brother, Walter, who phoned one day 18 years ago to announce that he was born as the result of a relationship Du Russel’s father, whom Walter never knew, had before marrying Du Russel’s mother. Walter and his wife drove from Pennsylvania to New York to meet his longlost family for the first time. “I must admit I did have my doubts about the validity of the whole story,” says Du Russel. “But once we met Walter, all doubts vanished, as he looked more like my father than myself or my brothers. The meeting was great. We talked and laughed and tried to capture our life stories in a few hours.” A year after that meeting, Walter, who was already dealing with ALS, passed away. “ALS took away any chance of having a new-found brother to know and love,” says Du Russel. “This terrible loss gave me the determination to help find a cure.” Neurologist Neil Shneider, director of the ALS Center at Columbia, said science is not close to finding a cure for the disease, which causes the degeneration of motor nerves that allow the body to move and function. “Our first goal is to slow the progression of ALS,” he explains. “The cure would come from stopping it cold and reversing the effects, which is what we hope to do long-term.” The ALS Center maintains two clinics that provide multi-specialty care for patients with ALS and their families, offering medical treatment, occupational and physical therapy, speech rehabilitation support, nutrition, social work and genetic counseling. The center also conducts research into the biology of the disease, tests drugs and develops new therapies. The funds raised by Du Russel support the center’s operations. The 11th annual star-studded “Sound Success for ALS Benefit Music Festival” is scheduled for Saturday, June 9, 2018, at the Village Pub in Lindenhurst, Long Island.

Playing Softball to Support Cancer Research

After the festival, Du Russel will turn his attention to organizing his sixth annual celebrity softball game, in which Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce members will compete against a team of celebrities. Past participants have included members of the Cowsills, the family band popular in the 1960s, singer Gary U.S. Bonds and the late comedian Kevin Meaney. Don DeMola, a former pitcher for the Montreal Expos, comes on board as a coach, along with Billy Sample, formerly of the Yankees and now a broadcaster and writer. Proceeds from the game go to an American Cancer Society division that holds fundraising walks aiming at helping people whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. The monies raised by the three- to five-mile noncompetitive walks—and by Du Russel’s softball games—are applied to conducting innovative research, providing free information and support, and helping people to reduce their breast cancer risk or detect the disease early, when it’s most treatable. The Chamber of Commerce gave Du Russel its 2016 “Heart and Soul” award in recognition of his activities on behalf of the organization. “We give the award to people who are considered the heart and soul of the community,” says Schwarz. “Mick certainly fits that description.”

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