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Marklund’s Top Hat Gala to go virtual with celebrities Jenny McCarthy, Donnie Wahlberg

BLACKBERRY TOWNSHIP – The coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for Marklund to host its annual Top Hat Gala fundraiser in person, which generally attracts 500 to 600 guests in a downtown Chicago hotel.

So this year, livestreaming will be “Top Hat Ball Upside Down: Our Ball, Your Ballroom,” from 7 to 8 p.m. Feb. 6, featuring Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg, comedian Pat McGann and “Chicago P.D.” actor John Flueger.

Marklund Events Director Jeannine Zupo said because of the coronavirus pandemic, Marklund’s Top Hat Ball, its signature fundraising event, cannot be held as usual this year.

There is an upside to a virtual event where registration is free, instead of $500 a ticket to attend in person, Zupo said.

“The good news is that we have people who are joining us for this event and registering to view the event who never would have come to the Top Hat Ball,” Zupo said. “Whether because of finances – the price tag is too expensive – or where they live, not in the Chicago area. There’s so much opportunity for so many people now to tear down the boundary of it.”

So far, 520 households have registered for the livestream, but there is no deadline to register, Zupo said.

Sponsorships – which are a big part of the fundraiser – had to take a different format, she said.

One example is that at previous live events, a company sponsored the photo booth, and all the photos would have the company logo on them.

Now, it’s a virtual photo booth. Participants can still get photos emailed to them with the sponsor’s logo, it’s just not in person, she said.

Some 25 corporate sponsors are also listed in the virtual program book, she said.

Other sponsors are hosting micro parties to have a few people, 10 or 20 guests, watch the show in their house and have Marklund cater the food, Zupo said.

The goal for this year’s event is $500,000. Last year, the Top Hat Ball netted $850,000 after expenses, she said. The gross was $1.2 million.

The fundraising is necessary as Marklund is a nonprofit that provides services to people with profound disabilities at three locations: its Marklund Hyde Center and Day School in the Mill Creek subdivision near Geneva, Marklund Philip Center & Marklund Day School in Bloomingdale, and the Marklund Wasmond Center & Day School in Elgin.

Zupo credited the event committee, chaired by St. Charles residents Catie and Max Schmidt, along with vice chairs Kelly and Tom Roule, who designed the one-hour livestream virtual gala.

“I could have 10,000 people watching,” Zupo said. “We have people registered from all over the country, because we have such an extension of people whose families are connected to Marklund. And we have snowbirds with homes in Florida – a ton of people viewing from Florida.”

The Schmidts will host a watch party at their home, featuring a “Frozen” theme, with a large backyard tent to allow for social distancing, Zupo said.

Comedian McGann will broadcast a greeting live with the Schmidts from their party, she said.

Visit for all event details and to register.

In addition to bidding on auction items, participants can extend their fundraising by creating personal fundraising pages to gain support from their social networks and those who are not able to participate in the livestream event.

The team with the highest fundraising total will win a choice of a Pizza Party and Wine Tasting for 20 guests at Aspen Lane Wine Company in spring or summer of this year or $1,000 Apple gift card.

“We can’t take the year off. We still need to raise money – we can’t live without the money,” Zupo said. “We had to get creative. We are really crushing this. It’s going to be exciting.”

More information about the Top Hat Ball livestream event is available by calling Jeannine Zupo at 630-593-5445 or via email at

During the event, Marklund also will honor this year’s Friends of the Year: Peg and John Haskins. The Lombard couple have been longtime supporters of Marklund both personally and through their travel business, Viking Travel Service in Westmont, the release stated.

“The Haskins were first introduced to Marklund in 1997, when they began supporting the very first Top Hat Ball with a cruise donation,” Zupo stated in the release. “Over the years, they have become champions to the cause by not only their continued in-kind and financial contributions, but by introducing countless travel partners to Marklund who have donated to our auctions. The Haskins’ combined personal and corporate giving spans almost 24 years, making Viking Travel one of our strongest corporate partners.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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