Up on the Roof: Elevating Cancer Research for 20 Years

Every year, the Up on the Roof committee comes together with the goal of finding a cure for cancer. Janis and Michael Bloch, Sarah Benson, Liz and John Sokol, and Libby and Rick Germain are all chairs of Up on the Roof, which has raised more than $6.6 million for Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) since its unassuming beginnings in 1993. Like many people, the chairs have lost loved ones to cancer – parents, in-laws, close family members and friends. And they are doing something about it.

“We started with a group of women in the community,” recalls Janis. Originally held atop of the 9th Avenue garage, a short walk from the OSUCCC – James, Up on the Roof has evolved into a premier black-tie gala in Columbus that has consistently sold out. Since 2008, funds have been directed toward the OSUCCC – James expansion project; before that, proceeds went toward human cancer genetics research.

But the unity and dedication that powered the initial Up on the Roof remain unchanged, attracting and maintaining a core committee of about 20 women as well as volunteers and attendees, some of whom are also marking their 20th anniversary with the event. Names such as LaDonna Solove (wife of the late Richard Solove), a constant and early supporter; Carole Schuller, a liaison between the committee and OSUCCC – James leadership; her husband, David Schuller, MD, CEO emeritus of The James; and Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of The James, are frequently mentioned. “They and others have been instrumental in its creation and continuing success,” adds Janis.

And the spirit of what Liz describes as “a celebration for people of all ages and from all walks of life” has also remained essentially the same. While each year offers different décor, entertainment and food, from a glittering Cirque de Soleil to an elaborate and stylish tailgate party to an evening of Hollywood glamour, Libby notes, “The event is considered a huge success every year because people are dancing the night away until the very last song.”

“There’s an immense amount of support from both the community and Ohio State,” states Libby. Appearances by Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State football players, the marching band and cheerleaders, and even medical students performing a Bollywood number have been part of past celebrations. Honorary chairs have included leaders from industry, the community and Ohio State, along with Macy and Shirley Block, who have also been major sponsors for many years.

And just about everyone involved draws their own family, friends and associates into the Up on the Roof circle. For example, “Columbus has seen a tremendous influx of young people,” observes Sarah, who moved back to Ohio from California seven years ago. She was attracted to the event because “along with being an advocate for finding a cure for cancer, I also wanted to help recruit the younger generation.”

Making continual refinements, the event chairs and committee work hard and closely to ensure that each Up on the Roof is unique and surprising. Along with themes, locations are varied: Ohio State’s French Field House; a tent at the corner of Ackerman Road and Fred Taylor Drive; and most recently, the Ohio Union’s Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom. So no matter how frequently or rarely people attend the gala, it never gets stale. “They are excited to walk in and see what it looks like and what’s going to happen,” says Sarah. And for this year’s 20th anniversary on Saturday, October 12, on the gently rolling grounds of Chemical Abstracts Service, “We want to bring the ‘wow’ factor times 20.” While previous galas were limited to about a thousand people, this year there are plans to allow for even more.

But the chairs never lose sight of what Up on the Roof is all about. “Cancer is still with us,” states Liz. And at certain points in the evening’s festivities, Ohio State physicians and leaders Schuller, Caligiuri and Steven G. Gabbe, MD, senior vice president for Health Sciences and CEO of the Wexner Medical Center, have all spoken about the latest in technology, research and targeted therapies, pointing to what’s being done and what will be needed and accomplished in the future. “It offers hope and a sense that progress is being made,” Liz says.

And the women won’t rest until cancer is eradicated. Says Janis, “Anything is possible when you are passionate about and a part of something so important.”

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