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'Dance Your Pancreass Off' For A Good Cause At Fairfield Fundraiser

Brian, Vinny, Marissa and Eve Donnelly.
Brian, Vinny, Marissa and Eve Donnelly. Photo Credit: Contributed
Denise Gross loved dancing before she died from pancreatic cancer in 2008. A fundraiser in her memory will be held on Sunday in Fairfield.
Denise Gross loved dancing before she died from pancreatic cancer in 2008. A fundraiser in her memory will be held on Sunday in Fairfield. Photo Credit: Contributed
Brian and Marissa Donnelly will host the fundraiser in memory of Marissa's mother.
Brian and Marissa Donnelly will host the fundraiser in memory of Marissa's mother. Photo Credit: Contributed
William Gross, Marissa Donnelly, Brian Donnelly, Zac Gross and Devon Gross will be at the fundraiser on Sunday.
William Gross, Marissa Donnelly, Brian Donnelly, Zac Gross and Devon Gross will be at the fundraiser on Sunday. Photo Credit: Contributed

MONROE, Conn. -- People dancing to Stevie Wonder songs seems like an unusual way to remember a victim of pancreatic cancer. Then again, Sunday’s “Dance Your Pancreass Off” event at The Fairfield Circle Inn is precisely the kind of event Denise Gross would have wanted.

A whopping 100 percent of proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit pancreatic cancer research. It was created by Monroe resident Brian Donnelly as a surprise birthday gift for his wife, Marissa. Her mother, Denise, died April. 16, 2008, after a short but valiant fight with pancreatic cancer. The Weston resident was 57 years old.

  • Who : Marissa and Brian Donnelly of Monroe
  • What : Hosts of a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research, "Dance Your Pancreass Off"
  • When : Sunday, 4-8 p.m, at The Fairfield Circle Inn
  • Details : Click here for the event's Facebook page

"She had high energy and loved to dance,’’ Marissa said. “I felt if we were to do a fundraiser, we had to make it representative of who she truly was. Brian and I talked about it, but it never was something we had time to pull together.”

Brian stealthily planned the details. He contacted his cousin, Eric Donnelly, who is part of a musical group. They will perform a live set of songs that were determined by auction. There will also be a disc jockey, food from BRYAC Restaurant and Raw Bar of Bridgeport, and, of course, dancing. Lots and lots of it.

Marissa will be joined at the party by her husband, brother Zach, father William and two young children. She’s still stunned that her non-technological husband pulled the party together without her knowing.

“He showed it to me on Facebook on my birthday, and I cried my eyes out,’’ Marissa said. “I was so shocked and so moved. My mother was my best friend in the world, and he knows how much I have wanted to do this. He’s not a planner. I was just totally moved and surprised.”

Amazingly, Brian managed to get donations for the venue, food and music. That will enable every cent from the fundraiser to be donated to the Lustgarten Foundation and its pancreatic cancer research programs.

Marissa works as the director of development for The Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, serving victims and raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull. She knows the effort Brian put in to pull the event together.

“I’m in the development world, and I know it takes months to do all the details for an event like this,’’ she said. “It took on a life of its own. Every single human being that Brian and I have asked has said yes when we’ve asked them for help.”

The music will be especially meaningful for Marissa. She, her brother and mother danced to Stevie Wonder music throughout their home as children.“My brother and I are 6½ years apart, so we didn't have a ton of common ground. Our after school dance parties bonded us, it made us form a relationship,’’ she said. “Now that I’m a mother of two, I get it.”

Her mother’s favorite song is Wonder’s classic “For Once in My Life,’’ which was also her wedding song. Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered” won the auction, which raised nearly $1,000.

Marissa and Brian hope to have nearly 100 people at Sunday’s event. They both know Denise will be watching, smiling and dancing.

“I think she would be so proud and excited,’’ Marissa said. “She would the first one on the dance floor. I’m so touched that we made it a genuine event about her. I’m excited that we’re doing something unique. She will be with us in spirit on Sunday."

Bond Insurance Group and Ren Rose Gross are other event contributors. Tickets are $50 per person and $80 per couple. Donations can also be made online to T he Lustgarten Foundation. For more information, click here to visit its Facebook page.

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