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INTERVIEW: "In The Pink" Honoree Rita Wasserman On The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, Her Lifelong Passion For Philanthropy And More

Nicole Barylski

Honoree Rita Wasserman. (Photo: Courtesy of Rita Wasserman)

"I'm so excited! I'm having trouble sleeping," Rita Wasserman told Hamptons.com about the upcoming In the Pink benefit, where she will be honored by The Ellen Hermanson Foundation with a Lifetime Community Achievement Award.

Taking place on Saturday, March 30 at 230 Elm Productions, in addition to fêting Wasserman, the evening will feature multi-chef tastings, an open bar, live music from The HooDoo Loungers - everybody's favorite East Coast New Orleans Party Band, and a silent auction and live auction with award-winning comedian and Emmy Award winning television producer Angela LaGreca.

We recently caught up with Wasserman, who has been extremely involved with The Ellen Hermanson Foundation for many years, to learn more about the evening, her inspiring philanthropic spirit, and more.

When did you first get involved with The Ellen Hermanson Foundation?

RW: 2003

What was it about the Foundation that made you want to volunteer?

RW: I had breast cancer in 2003 and out of nowhere, literally, they contacted me and gave me money and asked for whatever help I might need. I had to go to Riverhead five days a week for seven weeks. Riverhead at that time was the only place to get radiation. They helped me with transportation, they did so much - therapy. I couldn't believe it. I made up my mind, right then and there, that I was going to do everything I could to help this organization.

As someone who has been personally aided by the organization, what does the Foundation mean to those battling breast cancer and those that support them?

RW: It means the world. It means that you're not alone, it means that you have support because when you're diagnosed and you hear that you have breast cancer, that is devastation, terrifying, and to have this incredible support. I mean I'm not even talking about the money, I'm talking about the emotional support, Edyle O'Brien was the counselor and we had individual counseling and she was always available to us when we needed to talk. We would have private sessions, group sessions, always a well of support. That aspect of the Ellen Hermanson Foundation I think is called Ellen's Well because there is no bottom to the well.

What was your reaction when you learned the Foundation was honoring you with the Lifetime Community Achievement Award?

RW: Just blown away, literally blown away. Really, still. I got into bed last night and I was so excited I kept saying Rita you got to go to sleep. At 2 a.m. in the morning I was still excited.

As someone who has been involved with the organization for many, many years, you've seen the Foundation grow and thrive. What aspects are particularly exciting for you?

RW: The fact that we built the Ellen Hermanson Breast Cancer Center that's associated with Southampton Hospital is incredible, and the fact that we offer the most up-to-date mammography and examinations and have the most up-to-date equipment. As a matter of fact, I had to have something done while I was in California two years ago. They didn't even have the equipment there at a big hospital that we have at Southampton. I used to go to the City years ago and now I go to the Ellen Hermanson Breast Cancer Center. Another thing is all the money that we raise stays locally. We have as little overhead as possible so all of the volunteers work very hard. Now, we're involved with helping build the new cancer center [the Phillips Family Cancer Center] where we will have radiation and infusion chairs and who knows what else. We just do so much. There's so many areas and the money stays locally. This event is one of their fundraisers, their winter fundraiser, and then we have one in the summer and we have the run, which is a big fundraiser, and every year we hope to get at least 1,000 people in the run. I get there at 6:30 in the morning to see the people come in and what's also great is I'm the keeper of the money and so many people if they owe $60, they'll write out a check for $100 because they know it's such a great cause. They're just so generous.

You're also involved with several other East End causes and organizations. Tell me a little bit about the other volunteer work you do?

RW: I do volunteer a lot for Guild Hall, which I call the glue of East Hampton and I volunteer for Bay Street, which is a fabulous theater. Guild Hall has the museum and different things going on every night. I'm involved with water conservation, but for me the Ellen Hermanson, with everything I'm involved with, is my number one. As a matter of fact, when my husband passed away nine and a half years ago, I asked people to make contributions to the Ellen Hermanson Foundation because of what we do and because when a woman gets a diagnosis of breast cancer it is just... I mean I can't even explain it. It's like the Energizer bunny that gets the reverse. It goes to your marrow and it's like how did this happen? I ate right, I drank the right water. I have a lot of friends through the organization and Julie [Ratner] is just so warm and welcoming. I'm just so proud.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

RW: I'm beyond honored to be honored. I had no expectations and didn't even think about it. When I got called, it was like what? Truly it was like do you have the right number? Everyone I send out the invite to is like, it's so well deserved! But it is funny, when I was 14 in public school I got a medal for community service - that was PS 202 and then after for years of Franklin K. Lane High School, I got the same medal. Isn't that wild?

It was meant to be.

RW: I remember during the war, cigarettes, years ago, used to be lined with silver. I remember everybody in my family smoked and every pack it would be like, "Don't throw it away!" and I would make silver balls and give it to the war effort and make rubber balls, save newspapers. It's just part of my DNA.

Tickets to In the Pink are $100.

230 Elm Productions is located 230 Elm Street in Southampton. For more information, visit www.ellenhermanson.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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