Wine-tasting fundraiser benefits sarcoma research

Charitable donations flowed as plentifully as the wine during a fundraiser for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute Friday night.

“Andrea’s Sip for Life,” an annual wine-tasting fundraiser in its fifth year presented by the Gonzmart Family Foundation, generated between $40,000 and $50,000 for pediatric sarcoma research conducted at the center. Donations came through an auction that featured about 180 wines from Spain, California and South America, said Richard Gonzmart, event founder and president of Columbia Restaurant.

The event welcomed 280 people, he said, who spent the evening celebrating the memory of Andrea Dicks Hartley, the event’s namesake.

Hartley was a Moffitt Cancer Center patient who lost her life to sarcoma cancer in August 2006 at the age of 30. Gonzmart said he learned of Hartley’s struggle with the disease through Samuel Agresta, a Moffitt doctor who was a member of a research program he was helping to fund.

“(Agresta) said she was going to die,” Gonzmart said. “Five days after the daughter died, I was invited into the (family’s) home. I could only imagine if it were my daughter.”

He said the event was born out of a promise he made to Andrea’s mother, Wanda Dicks.

“I looked at her,” Gonzmart said, “and I told her I was going to do something to help people like Andrea.”

Dicks said Hartley received her degree from Florida State University and was a pharmaceutical representative for TAP Pharmaceuticals.

“She was an outgoing, wonderful person,” Dicks said. “She had a lot of friends, loved life and never complained. She handled the disease with such grace. She was so strong and so humbled. She accepted that diagnosis. That is the thing that strikes me so hard that I admire so much about her.”

Hartley left behind her daughter, Emma, who was 2 years old when her mother died. Emma turned seven in February.

“It kind of brings bittersweet feelings,” Dicks said of the evening. “Being here at this event really gives a sense that Andrea is back, but she’s not here. But as bad as that hurts, it would hurt a lot more if people didn’t care. After five years, they still remember.”

Tickets to the event were sold starting at $100 each, with all profits going to sarcoma research. Gold Sponsors donated $500 and received two tickets and their names in the event program. Platinum Sponsors donated $1,000 for a party of four and received their company name in the program. Diamond Sponsors donated $2,000, consisted of parties of eight, received a VIP table and had their company name listed in the program.

Sarcoma cancer can originate in connective tissues in the body, including bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, nerves and fibrous tissues, according to the Moffitt website. The disease is rare, with approximately 15,000 new cases reported annually in the U.S. There are 70 different kinds of sarcomas, and they represent only 1 percent of all cancers in adults and 15 percent of all solid cancers in children.

Dicks said she is “blown away” by the generosity of Gonzmart and others who attended the event in support of sarcoma research.

“Even as tragic as it was, people show up supporting Moffitt, supporting research,” she said. “It’s been phenomenal, (our family) didn’t even know Richard before we had him over for dinner.”

Chilean wines were a popular choice among bidders said Colleen Carryer, special events coordinator for Republic National Distributing Company.

Carryer said her company brought about 40 wines in total.

“We have a lot (of) close relationships, and they ask us every year to come out and do this event,” she said. “Our suppliers come out and they donate the product at 50 percent, and, of course, we donate our time. We do it because it’s good for the community and good for our friends who are also our customers.”

Anthony Conley, an oncologist within Moffitt’s Sarcoma Program and guest at the event, said Moffitt has the third-highest volume of sarcoma patients in the country.

“It’s a rare disease, but Moffitt has a high volume (of patients). The program leader, Douglas Letson, has a clear and progressive vision to make it the best sarcoma clinic in the country,” he said. “It’s the only sarcoma clinic in the country that has a young adult and adolescent division. There’s a gray area in sarcoma research, and that’s the area that hasn’t had much change in mortality.”

Among the wines auctioned off were four bottles of Rusty Wine Cuve Argentinian, a wine Gonzmart created. Gonzmart bought the highest-selling bottle of Rusty Wine for $200, with the other three going for $125, $120 and $90. The highest-selling wine of the night was a 2006 Querceto Chianti Classico that sold for $225.