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Tropic Funder

You don’t really need a reason to put on a coconut bra and a grass skirt for some hula dancing. But, if you did, this is a pretty good one. It may be cold outside on January 23, but Union South will feel like the tropics at the eighth Lily’s Luau event, which raises money for UW-based epilepsy research.

John Allen
January 06, 2016

With their eighth Lily’s Luau, the Badger alumni of Lily’s Fund raise money for epilepsy research.

For one night in January, Union South will transform from an ice-bound hall into a tropical paradise. This is the work of Lily’s Luau, the chief fundraiser for Lily’s Fund, an organization that supports epilepsy research at UW-Madison.

The event has become a particularly Badger occasion, with large numbers of alumni among the donors and all funding going to UW-Madison researchers.

“That’s our whole point,” says Anne Morgan Giroux ’86, one of the organization’s founders. “All of the money goes to epilepsy research right here at UW-Madison.”

Gifts to Lily’s Fund support two initiatives: a two-year fellowship, granted to a young scientist doing epilepsy-related research; and Grace Grants, which are $100,000 grants made, according to Giroux, for “cutting-edge research.”

The luau remains the organization’s biggest event, offering a silent auction (bids begin January 14), island feast, local celebrities, and dancing. It gives the campus and Madison community a tropical escape from winter.

In a (coco)nutshell, here’s what you need to know about Lily’s Fund:

  • The name honors Lily Giroux, the daughter of the organization’s founders, Anne and David MS’06 Giroux. Lily was diagnosed with epilepsy at age two.
  • One in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point. That means that more people suffer from the condition than from multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s combined.
  • The first Lily’s Luau was in 2009. Some 200 people attended and raised $16,000. In 2015, it attracted more than 700 guests and raised $145,000.
  • This year’s event will be the first to have “virtual guests”: people who register online to bid in the silent auction, even if they can’t attend in person.
  • Attendees will include Kitt Reuter-Foss ’79, Music’82. The noted opera star — she’s a mezzo soprano — also sang at last year’s event. She supports the organization in part because she, too, has been diagnosed with epilepsy. She suffered a grand mal seizure in 2005.
  • The current Lily’s Fund fellow is Antoine Madar, a researcher in the Department of Neuroscience. He’s the third fellow, and he received his two-year grant in 2015.
  • The most recent Grace Grant recipient was Giulio Tononi, a professor of psychiatry. This year’s Grace Grant recipient will be announced at the luau.
  • Grace Grants are named in honor of Grace Penwell, like Lily Giroux, a Madison-area teenager who suffers from epilepsy.

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