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History - Wings of Hope to MDA's Wings Over Wall Street®

This event began as the vision of a newly diagnosed ALS patient in late 2000. Toni Diamond, a United Airlines flight attendant, was diagnosed with ALS in September 2000. Rather than give up hope and live out her remaining life in utter despair, she decided to live and fight the disease that was soon to take away all of her freedom. Hoping to help in some small way, she told her caregiver-husband, Warren Schiffer, also a United Airlines flight attendant, that she wanted to find a way to raise funds for ALS research to help find treatments and a cure.

Warren then began searching for an organization to help bring Toni's vision to reality. Rather than start a new organization or create a foundation, Toni and Warren decided that they would partner with an existing organization experienced in fundraising and one that had demonstrated a history of commitment to the fight against ALS. Most importantly, however, they wanted a partner that would allow them to direct the funds raised to the to the ALS researchers at the Eleanor & Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center at Columbia University, where Toni was diagnosed, and to The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, where Toni and Warren heard about the latest research to find a cure. Toni and Warren decided that the researchers at those two institutions were the best persons to determine how the funds their event would raise should be used.

Along the way, the Wings of Hope sponsorship materials were distributed to the entire ALS patient list at Columbia. A recent ALS patient saw the materials and decided that Wings of Hope was the event he was looking for. Michael Beier, Director of Equity Trading at Credit Suisse First Boston, began obtaining sponsorships at a feverish pace. Mike was then named a co-chair of Wings of Hope for his efforts. 
Toni and Warren found their partner in the New York City District Office of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Then District Director William White convinced Toni and Warren that the MDA was the right organization to work with to organize the event and to make sure that the funds raised would go directly to the researchers. Considering Toni"s vocation as a flight attendant and her love of angels, the core organizing group came up with the name "Wings of Hope."

Toni and Warren reached out to their long-time friend, Scott Horak, a partner in R&J Construction, to co-chair Wings of Hope along with Warren's brother, Larry Schiffer, a partner in the international law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, L.L.P. Scott, Larry, and William began to organize an event committee of friends, family members, and members of the United Airlines family. While Toni was forced to choose between dying at age 42 or going on a ventilator to breathe in March 2001, the Wings of Hope event committee began obtaining sponsors and raising funds. As Toni's condition deteriorated, the event committee expanded and Wings of Hope grew from a modest fundraising event to the largest ALS event ever conducted in New York City by the MDA. Toni's spirit and her will to live and see the event happen drove the committee members to extraordinary efforts.

Wings of Hope was originally scheduled for September 14, 2001 at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, New York City. Because of the unspeakable tragedy of September 11th, Wings of Hope was postponed to November 8, 2001. The horror and sadness of September 11th was brought home to the Wings of Hope event committee as a number of the sponsors of Wings of Hope lost people on that day. But the terrorist attacks did not stop ALS from ravaging Toni's body and a cure was still needed.

Wings of Hope was held on November 8, 2001 and over 800 people attended, including a number of ALS patients, ALS caregivers, doctors, and those who contributed generously to the MDA to fund ALS research. Toni was flown down to New York from Cape Cod by air ambulance and she and Warren came onto the stage as Toni was presented with the first Spirit Award for her courage and her vision in founding Wings of Hope. Mike was also presented with the Spirit Award for his extraordinary commitment to raising funds for ALS research. Dr. Hiroshi Mitsumoto, Director of the Eleanor & Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center, presented the first annual Diamond Award, named after founder Toni Diamond, to Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, Director of the Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins. Actors William and Stephen Baldwin presided over the live auction and research minutes auction and helped raise significant funds. Wings of Hope raised nearly $650,000 in net proceeds, which were presented to Dr. Mitsumoto and Dr. Rothstein to continue their ALS research.

MDA's Wings Over Wall Street® 2002

In 2002, Wings of Hope became MDA's Wings Over Wall Street®, and Mike Beier became the chair of the event. And something miraculous happened. Wings Over Wall Street 2002 was held on October 3, 2002, at New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square. Over 1700 guests packed the Broadway Ballroom and over $1.9 million in net proceeds was raised. Presenting Sponsor, Credit Suisse First Boston, along with Guardian Angel Sponsors LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, L.L.P. and Zweig-Dimenna Trading, and Angel Sponsors SAC Capital Advisors, LLC and Preferred Empire Mortgage, led the way with spectacular donations. William Baldwin once again joined Wings, this time as master of ceremonies, along with baseball great David Cone, and actors Stephen Baldwin, Mariska Hargitay, Maria Bello, Caroline Rhea, and Tonja Walker Davidson. The 2002 Spirit Awards were presented to Christopher Pendergast, the founder and president of Ride For Life, and Peter K. Demmerle, partner at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene, & MacRae, L.L.P., for their extraordinary commitments to raising awareness and funds for ALS research. The 2002 Diamond Award was presented by Dr. Rothstein to Dr. Mitsumoto. Michael Beier presented the first annual Beier Award to Norma Steck, a person with ALS who has inspired others with her leadership and dedication. Over $225,000 was raised at the research minutes auction, with the London insurance community presenting a check for $65,000 for research in honor of Peter Demmerle. Credit Suisse First Boston wowed the crowd with an additional donation of $250,000. Wings 2002 was a spectacular event. 2003 was a very difficult year for Wings. Just as planning for Wings Over Wall Street 2003 was starting to gain momentum, our chair, Michael Beier, lost his battle to ALS. Devastated by Michael's passing, the Wings Executive Committee and the MDA pressed on knowing that Michael would not want us to stop funding the ALS researchers because he was no longer with us. While shaken by the loss of our chair and the difficulties all charities faced with the downturn in the economy and on Wall Street, 2003 chair, Andrea Evers, led the Wings Committee toward our goal of putting more funds in the hands of the ALS researchers.

MDA's Wings Over Wall Street® 2003

Wings Over Wall Street 2003 was held on October 2, 2003, at The New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square. In spite of the difficulties faced in 2003, over 1200 guests attended and over $1 million was raised. This brought Wings' 3-year total to over $3.5 million to fund ALS research. Once again, Presenting Sponsor Credit Suisse First Boston led the way, with Trading Day Sponsor East Shore Partners, Inc., and Angel Sponsors Zweig-Dimenna Trading, Goldman Sachs & Co., Knight Securities, Morgan Stanley, Preferred Empire Mortgage, Bradley Zipper, and Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen providing significant support. Actor William Baldwin, a neighborhood friend of Michael Beier's, once again hosted the event, this year joined by singer Tony Orlando. Other guests included supermodel Bridget Hall, actor-comedian Garrett Morris, and baseball great David Cone.

A very special part of the evening was the memorial tribute to Michael Beier. His life was remembered with a touching video accompanied by the song "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)" by Billy Joel. Thomas Jessell, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University was presented with the Diamond Award for his work with stem cells in the treatment of ALS. The Spirit Award was presented to Eliot and Marjorie Danziger for their commitment to raising funds for ALS research. Wall Street trader Cathy Wilson Rosen of Zweig-Dimenna received the Michael P. Beier Award for her extraordinary efforts on behalf of Wings for the past 3 years.

Both the live and research minute auctions went very well, with a signed Rolling Stones guitar, a signed U2 tour jacket, and dinner with David Cone auctioned off.

Additional funds were raised when Tony Orlando jumped into the audience and began singing for donations. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" garnered a $5,000 contribution alone! Wings Over Wall Street 2003 was a smashing success, but Wings is not through yet.

 

 Wings History continues on: Page 2