I had the privilege of serving as co-emcee of the sixth annual Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) Sports Celebrity Breakfast on March 28 at the Gelber Centre. Close to 600 people were on hand, raising about $115,000 for seniors in crisis.
From day one I have served on the organizing committee of this event. It all began with a call from former Côte Saint-Luc City Councillor Harold Greenspon. He was vice-chairman of the CJCS at the time. “I want to start a Sports Celebrity Breakfast,” he said. “Will you help me?”
This call came at the same time Côte Saint-Lucers had voted to demerge from the City of Montreal. While it was still a year and a half before a vote to elect a reconstituted Côte Saint-Luc council, I asked Harold if he had plans to run.
“Probably not,” said Harold.
“Then I will make you a deal,” I responded. “If I help you get this breakfast off the ground, will you endorse me as your successor in District 2?”
A deal was made and Harold and I began to plan. We assembled a small committee and set the following spring as our objective. The intent here was to break even and give the community a star studded event they could enjoy.
We sold 400 tickets for the first event and managed to raise a few thousand dollars. The following fall Harold backed my election bid and I won by a 92 percent margin, in Côte Saint-Luc District 2. While our agreement was only for one year, I found this experience too enlightening to give it up. We made $10,000 at the second event. That year we decided to add a “guest of honour” to the agenda in former Canadiens coach Jean Perron, for his role in guiding the Israeli national team. Susequent honourees were Alouettes president Larry Smith, Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur, Canadiens president Pierre Boivin and this year Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo.
When Harold surrendered the chairmanship to Michael Wagen, the senior vice-president and chief operating officer of Delmar International, the fundraising aspect exploded. With invaluable staffer Susan Rozansky coordinating the event and the CJCS Foundation playing a more important role, we had a marquee “happening” on our hands. Members of the local sports media began to call me to see if they could attend.
This year’s event included our usual impressive list of guests: former Habs players Guy Carbonneau Kirk Muller, Claude Lemieux, Petr Svoboda, Elmer Lach and Phil Goyette; NHL referee Dave Jackson; Montreal Alouettes President Larry Smith, accompanied by players Etienne Boulay, Anwar Stewart, Eric Deslauriers, Diamond Ferri and the Grey Cup; former Montreal Expos pitcher Denis Boucher (now a scout for the New York Yankees) and former Grand Slam Baseball School operator Johnny Elias; Montreal Juniors hockey team owner Farrell Miller, team president Martin Routhier and Israeli-born forward Eliezer Sherbatov; Canadian Olympic diver Marie-Eve Marleau, wrestler Martine Du Grenier, Paralympian in Archery Lyne Tremblay, and cross country skier Dahsa Gazaiova (just back from the Vancouver Winter Olympics).
Among the media attending were Stu Cowan and Herb Zurkowsky from The Gazette, Paul Graif from CTV and K103 FM, Abe Hefter from CJAD, veteran broadcaster Jim Bay, CKAC’s (and former Alouette) Gabrielle Grégoire and Andie Bennett, Mitch Melnick and Noel Butler from THE TEAM 990.
By selling corporate tables, organizing a top-notch raffle and silent auction and publishing a souvenir program book, Wagen has made this one of the most successful breakfast fundraisers in the community. Having noted lawyer Morden “Cookie” Lazarus as honourary chair provides us with one of the more well connected personalities in town. Cookie has the contacts and our committee benefits.
This year’s event was videoed, including the dramatic opening introductions and a classic interview by Melnick and Bennett with Elmer Lach. It brought the house down. We hope to find a way to post it online.
I do want to conclude that the genesis of this breakfast was in Côte Saint-Luc. The city organized a few of its own such events and so did Beth Zion Congregation. I worked on the latter with Joe Presser. It provided us with the template for the successful CJCS Golden Age of Sports Celebrity Breakfast. Joe Presser, incidentally, was one of the first people I asked to be on the committee. He is also a constituent of mine in District 2.