Defining moments in one’s life can come at any time. For Kenneth Ketner, a long-time Newport Beach resident and businessman, his defining moment began years ago when he was a young child. “I suffered a debilitating bone disease and my parents had limited resources, so they turned to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for help. The care I got was beyond what words could describe.” Ketner was named Easter Seal Child of the Year and became a spokesman for the organization at a very young age. He recalls that was his first effort trying to give something back for the kindness that was shown to him in a time of need.
It was in the late 90’s when Ken met Frank DiBella, an accomplished CPA. DiBella had lost his kidney to cancer in 1994. Ketner recalls, “I was impressed with Frank’s personal passion for helping others and especially his commitment to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He organized a special event every year that helped raise money for over 20 years.”
In 2011, DiBella faced a life-threatening battle. His cancer had returned with a vengeance. Given a diagnosis of only a few months to live by local doctors, Frank turned to the City of Hope because of their experience in developing powerful cancer treatments that save lives. That decision saved his life, and DiBella’s passion for helping others was re-focused. That resulted in the founding of “Let’s be Frank about Cancer” and with the help of friends like Ketner, has raised over $4 Million for the City of Hope. “When Frank asked for my help it was an easy yes,” said Ketner, whose wife Cheri, a successful realtor in Newport Beach, also became a willing “Let’s Be Frank About Cancer” committee member.
The money is sorely needed, and the statistics are staggering. According to the American Cancer Institute, the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024. Also in 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.
Inspired by Sinatra’s famous song “Fly Me To The Moon”, this year’s gala “Fly Me To A Cure” was successfully attended by over 400 guests. The evening was a celebration of life, of giving back, and of new discoveries. During the evening, His Excellency Milan Panic, former Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, was honored for his $1 Million gift to the City of Hope. Likewise, Dr. Sumanta “Monty” Pal, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and Co-Director, Kidney Cancer Program, was recognized for his role in saving DiBella’s life and for his contributions at the Milan Panic Laboratory for Molecular Medicine at the City of Hope.
The committee members joyfully gathered at the end of the evening behind a huge check for $691,931 made payable to Dr. Pal for cancer research at the City of Hope. The final fundraising efforts raised over $713,000 that night.
Major sponsors for the gala included His Excellency Milan Panic, S. Paul and Marybelle Musco, Mr. Bret Hardin of Ancon Marine, Michael and JoAnn Sweig, Ken and Cheri Ketner, The Argyros Family Foundation, Mobilitie, and the Hausman Family Foundation. Jann Carl, former Entertainment Tonight correspondent and co-host of the breakout reality hit “Small Town Big Deal,” was Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening.
Ketner perfectly summed up the spirit of the evening and their mission by saying, “Our community is very committed and generous to Non-Profits, and we know all of these organizations could use more help.” He went on to say, “I wish the entire community had been present to witness the success and passion that this year’s event created. I believe that if people in our community witnessed the energy in that room, next year’s event would be overwhelming.”