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Gilda’s Club: The name on the door matters

British singer David Bowie who played Jo

British singer David Bowie who played Jo

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:42PM



One of the surest signs of the incurious and lazy mind is when someone brushes off ignorance of a particular subject by saying, “How would I know about that? It was way before my time.”

Yes. I know. Shocking. Stuff happened before you were born.

Of course we’re all going to be more in tune with what transpires during our lifetime than the events of a generation or certainly a millennium ago, but if you’re 21 or 28 or 35 years old and you have no interest in any historical event, art, sports championship, music phenomena, seminal band, TV show, movie, etc., etc., from before your time, wow. You don’t know what you’re missing.

So maybe you’re a huge fan of “Saturday Night Live.” If you don’t catch it on Saturday night, you always check out the clips the next day. You can name most of the cast members and featured players by heart (I’m not sure even the cast members could name ALL the cast members and featured players by heart), and you’re well aware of the show’s history, going all the way back to “Wayne’s World.” You’ve even seen old “SNL” clips of that guy that does all the family movies, Eddie Murphy, when he was young and skinny and super edgy.

You might even be vaguely aware of some even earlier versions of the show. The guy from “According to Jim” had an older brother who was on “SNL.” And the cranky old man from the first couple of seasons of “Community” did “Weekend Update” back in the 1970s, right?

It’s not your fault you were born in 1990 and you don’t know all this “SNL” history. After all, the time span between the beginning of World War II and the debut of “Saturday Night Live” is actually shorter than the time span between the debut of “Saturday Night Live” and the most recent episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

Nevertheless. That still doesn’t make it any less stunning and any more objectionable when a branch of charity named after Gilda Radner says it’s changing its name because people don’t know whom she is any more.

Good intentions, bad move

It’s a story you would almost expect from the Onion on a particularly caustic day.

“Gilda’s Club changing name, as fewer know namesake,” is the headline in the Wisconsin State Journal. The Madison affiliate of the wonderful group that provides support for cancer patients and their families is actually the fourth branch to make such a change.

“One of our realizations this year is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed, as we are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with cancer diagnosis,” said Lannia Syren Stenz, executive director of the Madison club. “We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.”

Come January, the name will be Cancer Support Community.

No doubt that’s a more straightforward title. Having co-hosted an annual Gilda’s Club fundraiser in Chicago on a number of occasions, yes, I’ve had to explain the name and the legacy of Gilda Radner more than a few times. So what? It’s an opportunity to tell people about the wonderful characters Radner created for “Saturday Night Live,” and the comedic trail she helped blaze for brilliant minds such as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

What about the Chicago branch?

“Gilda’s Club Chicago will remain Gilda’s Club Chicago in honor of the courageous way Gilda [lived] and all our members live with cancer,” LauraJane Hyde, CEO of Gilda’s Club Chicago, told me.

A Facebook post from Kelly Leonard of Second City Chicago: “Please know that Gilda’s Club Chicago will REMAIN Gilda’s Club Chicago. Please support this amazing institution that will ALWAYS be named after the wonderful Gilda Radner. Spread the word Chicagoans!”

Amen to that.

Members of the freshman class at Walter Payton College Prep were just babies when Walter Payton died. Forty-year-olds stuck in traffic on the Kennedy Expressway hadn’t been born when JFK was assassinated. Across the country, hospital wings and expressways and community centers and schools and airports and churches and skyscrapers are named after individuals that impacted the world. Years ago. Decades ago. Centuries ago. This is what education is all about — teaching the lessons of the past.

If a name change encourages even one additional young patient to seek comfort and support at one of these centers, it’s hard to argue against it. Nor am I suggesting anyone at those centers is disrespecting Ms. Radner’s memory. Obviously that’s not the intention.

But we are a better people when we honor and remember those that came before us, even if it means we have to take a breath, remind ourselves we were once young too — and explain yet again the story behind the name on the door.



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