Illuminate: The Woman’s Board of RUSH University Medical Center to Celebrate Excellence in Cellular Therapy at Fall Benefit

After two years of virtual celebrations, The Woman’s Board of RUSH University Medical Center is ready to shine its light on the beloved Fall Benefit with its return as an in-person event on Friday, September 16.

“I think we’re ready to strike the word ‘pivot’ from our vocabulary and to hold the Fall Benefit the way we planned it, in-person,” says Fall Benefit co-chair Erin Ritchie. “We’re all ready to engage face-to-face. It’s more impactful and emotional when you’re there witnessing the work happening at RUSH. It will absolutely be a night to remember.”

(Left to Right) Erin Ritchie and Sonja Smith, Fall Benefit Co-Chairs, with Woman’s Board President Cindy Mancillas (PHOTO CREDIT: Lisa Fitzsimons Photography)

“Illuminate” is the theme for this year’s Fall Benefit that will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Theater on the Lake. There will be passed appetizers and food stations by Food for Thought, a live auction hosted by professional auctioneer and Chief Business Development Officer of Hindman Auctions Alyssa Quinlan, and a super raffle with only 100 tickets sold for the chance at winning $5,000. As a final touch, the evening will conclude with dancing to music spun by world-renowned DJ Madrid and attendees will be treated to a surprise musical guest.

“’Illuminate’ was an easy theme for us to land on for this year’s event because the word really encompasses how we feel RUSH operates every day,” Ritchie says. “It’s discovery, hope, knowledge—not only RUSH but the work that’s happening on the Principal Project and what it means to so many people.”

Guests at the 2019 Fall Benefit, which was also held at Theater on the Lake. (PHOTO CREDIT: Widia Viti Photography)

Every year, The Woman’s Board raises funds for a high priority project at RUSH University Medical Center. They accept grant applications from various areas across the Medical Center and the Board selects the ones where they feel there is the most need or can make the biggest impact. They’re currently working towards a $500,00 pledge for Excellence in Cellular Therapy as their Principal Project.

“We all can agree that everyone has been touched by cancer in one way or another which is all the more reason for us to get behind this broad-reaching therapy project,” adds Sonja Smith, Fall Benefit co-chair, who has been part of the RUSH family since she was a student at New Trier on the RUSH Junior Board. “It’s going to have a massive impact around the world and RUSH is leading the charge on this.”

The Woman’s Board Fund for Excellence in Cellular Therapy will facilitate the work of RUSH physician-scientists introducing these exciting, but highly complex, cellular therapies into patient care. Providing for care coordination, research to further personalize these novel therapies and support for patients undergoing treatment, funds will strengthen RUSH’s current position as a destination program in the Midwest for lung cancer, melanoma and hematologic malignancies—areas where cell therapies are rapidly advancing.

“The Woman’s Board Fund for Excellence in Cellular Therapy will be a critical resource during this pioneering new era in our field,” explains Celalettin Ustun, MD, the RUSH University Medical Center Coleman Foundation Chair of Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant, Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Cell Therapy. “In just the past few years, we’ve seen how our CAR T-cell therapy has given new hope to patients with leukemia, lymphoma and now multiple myeloma who did not respond to standard therapies. Now, RUSH is leading in Chicago by offering early-phase trials of TIL therapy, which has the same breakthrough potential for patients with solid tumors.”

Celalettin Ustun, MD, here with his colleague Sunita Nathan, MD, is helping to lead RUSH’s Cellular Therapy efforts. (PHOTO CREDIT: Rush)

Because of this research, RUSH is poised to become one of the nation’s first clinical trial sites for tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, or TIL therapies, for lung cancer and melanoma. This is the result of years of research and development. TIL therapies represent the best hope to cure patients whose cancer is resistant to current treatments.

“While the new Joan and Paul Rubschlager Building is designed to accommodate the most advanced cellular therapies, these new offerings are among the most logistically complex treatments in cancer care to administer,” Ustun adds. “Donor support gives us the flexibility to devise protocols that ensure patients achieve the best outcomes and conduct research that will extend the benefit of these therapies to more patients in the future.”

The Woman’s Board of RUSH University Medical Center itself is one of the oldest hospital women’s boards in the country, dating back to 1884. It is made up of more than 200 dedicated women from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs who are asked to volunteer their time and talents. The Woman’s Board has three major fundraising initiatives: the Spring Luncheon, the Fall Benefit and the two (soon to be three!) gift shops they operate at RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago. 

“People are really fired up for an in-person event,” says Smith. “It has been absolute magic to watch the Fall Benefit come together over the last year. Our board members have all gone above and beyond, all so brilliant and resourceful. We just can’t wait to share the magic with everyone at this very special venue.”

To learn more about the Principal Project for Excellence in Cellular Therapy, the Woman’s Board or to purchase tickets to the Fall Benefit, visit

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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.