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Leukemia And Lymphoma Society's Walk In Rye Sheds Light On Group's Mission

Published 09/22/2015

RYE, N.Y. ­­ The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) started hosting “Light The Night Walks” 16 years ago. On Saturday, Nov. 7, Rye Playland will host the Westchester County event for the eighth straight year. The mission of the walk ­­ to raise funds for patient support services, advocacy for lifesaving treatments and cancer research ­­ remains as vital as ever.

The Westchester Bank’s President and CEO, John Tolomer, will serve as the 2015 “Light The Night Walk” Chairperson. The walk raised

$825,000 last year in Westchester, and $1.6 million in seven walks throughout New York and Connecticut. In the 16 years the event has been held nationwide, LLS has raised nearly $900 million.

“It’s a unique event,’’ said Dennis Chillemi, the Executive Director LLS’s Westchester/Hudson Valley chapter. “All of the walkers carry illuminated lanterns, red for supporters, white for people who are going through their journey and gold in honor of those who lost the battle. It’s a very moving night.”

Each “Light The Night Walk” honors local blood cancer survivors and commemorates individuals who have lost their lives to these diseases. The 2015 Westchester County honorees include: Donna Varbaro of Port Chester, a survivor of non­Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL); Dr. Mitch Kaphan of New Rochelle, a survivor of mantle cell lymphoma (MCL); Dr. Karen “Toby” Haghenbeck of Larchmont, a survivor of diffuse large B­cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The In­Memory Honoree is Lillian Robustelli of Chappaqua, who was first diagnosed with malt lymphoma and then with diffuse large B­cell lymphoma two years later (DLBCL). She died in 2005 at age 71.

Nearly 6,000 people walked last year in Rye, Chillemi said, and there is room to accommodate more. “There really isn’t a limit,’’ he said. “It’s grown every year and this year we’re hoping to raise $870,000.” Chillemi’s chapter of LLS will also hold walks in Rockland, Dutchess, New Haven and Hartford counties. A walk in Fairfield County will be held on Saturday, Oct. 17, in Stamford.

LLS has long been an innovator in hosting and creating events to bring awareness to its mission. It started the Team­In­Training program in 1988, where endurance athletes compete in some of the nation’s marquee events, such as the Boston Marathon, with a team from LLS. It also hosted a Pineapple Run, an obstacle course race, in Greenwich for several years. The organization also supports its own cause. Team Green, which consists of executive leadership from LLS, has raised the most so far among all of the teams participating in the November walk.

The Westchester Bank is a big supporter. John Tolomer has been a past board member of LLS and has had a long­term relationship with the organization. “We’re really excited to have the support of The Westchester Bank,’’ said Emily Genzlinger, Senior Campaign Director for “Light The Night” and Special Events for LLS. “We encourage people to go to and find the walk nearest them. The walk is not just for services and research. Anyone who needs assistance can reach out and they can find out about support from us.”

Festivities for the Nov. 7 “Light the Night Walk” at Rye Playland begin at 5 p.m. and the walk begins at 7 p.m. The event also includes food, family activities, entertainment, and a fireworks show. Visit ( to sign up or learn more about the event.