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a big night in the big easy
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long

The Red Dress Gala is a highly anticipated charitable event in the Jonesboro community each year, and this year’s old New Orleans-themed event is no exception. The gala, now in its seventh year, was developed by the Cardiology Associates Foundation non-profit organization and benefits the Women and Heart Disease programs for the Jonesboro community.

The 2012 Red Dress Gala honorees are: Dr. Darlene Shipman, heart health advocate; Gayle Cohen, red dress ambassador for prevention; and Margaret Holloway, community service and support. Each of the honorees was selected because of their efforts to raise awareness for heart disease in women and to give back to the Jonesboro community.

The three co-chairs of this year’s event, Angela Gary, Jessica Dillon and Denise Gschwend, are excited about “The Big Easy” theme of this year’s black tie event.

“I’m involved because I love to volunteer and help others; that’s why we’re out there – to try and raise money and awareness about heart disease in women,” said Gschwend, who is co-chairing the event for the second year in a row.

The 2012 Red Dress Gala will be held at St. Bernards Auditorium on Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. In addition to live and silent auctions, there will be entertainment from the 1-900 Band. For more information about the gala, go to arkheartfoundation.com or call 931-4044.

Margaret Holloway is a fixture in numerous charitable and community organizations around the city of Jonesboro. She will be recognized for her contributions at the gala and says that she was initially shocked to receive the honor.

“My first reaction was, ‘Why me?’” said Holloway, the vice president of public relations and community development at Ritter Communications. “I was so truly surprised and blessed. ... I am the least to whom this honor should be bestowed. I have a passion for public service and helping others, but there are so many women that do much, much more than I.”

The well-known community activist is a board member and the treasurer for the Jonesboro University Rotary Club, a chair of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce Business Network Committee, a committee member for Jonesboro Vision 2030, the 2012 board chairman of the St. Bernards Advocates and is on the board for the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, the JETS Community Advisory, the Cardiology Associates Foundation and the Red Cross. She is also active in Leadership Paragould and Southwest Church of Christ.
Holloway looks forward to the event each year because of the spotlight it brings to women’s heart issues.

“Women need to recognize that heart disease is not only not a ‘man’s disease;’ it’s also not a ‘some other woman’s disease,’” said Holloway. “We are all at varying levels of risk for heart disease. Educate yourself to know your risk and seek diagnosis and treatment. Women need to talk more not only to their doctors, but more importantly to each other about heart disease. Together, we can advance the awareness of heart disease in women.

“I believe in this work; my husband is a heart patient. Heart disease is very prevalent in my family; my brother has recently experienced the effects of heart disease. I want to do my part before the disease reaches others. I cannot do this task alone; it takes many folks. One extra pair of hands and a heart is a big help.”

At the gala, Dr. Darlene Shipman will be honored as the 2012 heart health advocate. Shipman, who has been with Cardiology Associates of Northeast Arkansas for the past 22 years, is an advanced practice nurse and developed and manages the group’s Heart Failure Clinic.

“I have been a healthcare provider in the specialty of cardiology for more than 20 years, and the Red Dress Event has been at the forefront of expanding the knowledge base of women and heart disease, both at the professional and community levels,” said Shipman of her appreciation for the event. “The Red Dress Gala shows a continued strong support for achieving a heart healthy community.

“Having committed many years to the management of heart disease, to be recognized by this event is a great honor to me.”

Shipman says that one of her goals is to start educating women about heart disease at a younger age. She would like to get the younger population involved in stimulating a need for additional research and prevention programs.

“The mission of this event speaks for everything I believe in, and I am grateful that our community has the Cardiology Associates Foundation to bring women and heart disease to the forefront of strong thinkers and leaders of this community,” she said. “Heart disease affects every family in the community, and to have an organization that has the potential to reach and provide benefit to as many people as the Red Dress Gala does is phenomenal.”

Gayle Cohen, who will be recognized at the 2012 Red Dress Gala as the red dress ambassador for prevention, has been involved with the event since Emily Lard conceptualized it seven years ago. She said she looks forward to everything about the gala, from the decorations, auctions and food to seeing everyone dressed in their black tie best.

“For me, the Red Dress Gala starts in April and goes on through September; that is because it takes a lot of time to plan it,” said Cohen, who works part-time as a customer service representative at St. Bernards Health & Wellness Institute. “It’s amazing that Jonesboro has so many generous businesses that contribute to the success of the Red Dress Gala. The Red Dress Gala really showcases the generosity of this community through the businesses that give so much to help make it a success.”

Cohen says that for most of the event’s volunteers, the gala becomes personal.
“Using the red dress emblem gives us one more opportunity to publicize the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of women,” she said. “Women are important to their families, are depended on by their families and are loved by their families, so it’s important to start now to take care of their hearts so they can be with their families for a long, long time.”