RIVERSIDE — It was an exceptionally good year for Ben Ries, a lover of dogs and underdogs who died of cancer in 2005.
His beloved Cubs finally won the World Series, and the organization the Alburnett boy inspired raised more than $250,000 last weekend to help childhood cancer patients and their families.
To top it all off, the dogs and hunters he also loved, consistent with his master plan to integrate those passions into an annual fundraiser, enjoyed themselves immensely at the 14th annual Aiming for a Cure fundraiser.
Before Ben died at age 12 in 2005 he had already helped his parents, Steve and Jodie Ries, and his sister Rachel establish the foundation that so far has raised more than $2 million for cancer research and direct assistance to children and families facing the darkest days of their lives.
Speaking Saturday before a record 540 banquet attendees, Tim Anderson, a board member since the organization’s founding, recalled his first meeting with Ben Ries, “a little boy wearing a stocking cap,” 15 years ago.
Anderson, who at the time worked for Cedar Rapids-based Hunter’s Specialties, said he was a bit skeptical when Steve and Ben Ries visited his office to recruit him for the cause of organizing pheasant hunters to have fun and raise money to support childhood cancer victims.
But Ben — with his cheerful optimism, his will to help other sick children and his faith in the goodness of people — quickly won him over, said Anderson, now a representative of Mossy Oak, one of more than 25 platinum sponsors of the annual event.
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“It just keeps getting bigger and better every year,” said Steve Ries, founding president of Aiming for a Cure.
With record proceeds, banquet attendees, platinum sponsors and participants in the sporting clay and pheasant hunting events at Highland Hideaway Hunting, “it got bigger this year in every way you could measure,” Ries said.
While the money is important, “our success can also be measured in the appreciation of the children and families celebrating with us,” he said.
Noting that every cent raised goes directly to the cause, Ries thanked the 150 unpaid volunteers and several hundred supporters for “coming here tonight with open hearts filled with love and support to help us reach out to those dealing with difficult times and decisions.”
Reiterating what his son felt in his heart, Ries said cancer patients and their families take great comfort in knowing people understand their plight and care enough to help.