“To reap the rewards, you have to do the work.” So states the Pan Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) Founder and Executive Director Billy Starr—the driving force behind one of the most successful fundraising events in the country. Equally recognized for his vision, dedication and spirit, Billy Starr has made it his personal mission, as well as the mission of the PMC, to raise awareness and money to fight cancer. Mr. Starr will be the speaker at Bay Path College’s 111th commencement on Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 1:00 p.m. at the Longmeadow campus. He will join Kay Bernon, Founder, President of the Board of Trustees and Fundraising Chair of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy, as recipients of honorary degrees at the ceremony.
The evolution of the partnership between athletic endurance and fundraising is a natural one for Starr. Whether it was biking, hiking, or rock climbing, physical adventure has always been part of his lifestyle. When his mother, Betty Starr, died from melanoma at the age of 49, he came to terms with her passing by hiking the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends. From that experience, Starr came away with a transforming discovery: those who combine the physical AND mental commitment to a challenge often are successful in fulfilling their goals.
As a result, the PMC began in 1980 on a Saturday morning in Springfield, Massachusetts. Starr led a group of 36 cyclists on a 220 mile ride, and raised $10,200. Today, the PMC is in its 29th season and expects to raise $34 million dollars in this fiscal year and will include over 5,000 bicyclists trekking across Massachusetts. It is the largest single contributor to the Jimmy Fund, which supports cancer research and care at Boston’s world-renowned Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
A graduate of the University of Denver, Starr earned a masters degree in education from Northeastern University in 1978. In November 2004, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute gave Starr the Sidney Farber Medical Research Award for the exceptional contribution he has made to reduce the burden of cancer on society. Among his many acknowledgements, he has also been the recipient of a lifetime achievement award by the national Lung Cancer Alliance.
Kay Bernon established the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1999. The Academy is the only private post-secondary residential school in the country for young adults with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that is defined by having learning, cognitive or development disabilities and yet features a special talent for music. As a parent of a son with Williams Syndrome, Ms. Bernon knows first-hand the need for such a facility and has worked tirelessly since 1994 to bring her vision to reality. From chairing 10 fundraising galas that have featured such major talents as Keith Lockhart, Livingston Taylor, and Aerosmith sharing the musical stage with young people with disabilities, to researching the purchase and site development of the Academy, Ms. Bernon has been actively involved every step of the way. In addition, she has cultivated relationships with local colleges, including Bay Path, which broadens the experiences and interactions between young adults with disabilities and college students through volunteerism and mentorships. For the last several years, students from the Academy have been performing and delighting audiences at the College’s Winterfest Concert. Offering a well-rounded curriculum with a music-focused component, the Academy has a two-year certificate, a summer program for prospective students and other special learners, and an intensive vocational and independent life skills program for Academy graduates called Music in Careers
. For her hard work and determination in promoting rich, community-based lives for individuals with disabilities, Ms. Bernon has been honored by the Community Housing for Adult Independence of the greater Boston Jewish Family & Child Services.
Bay Path is a four-year private college with an enrollment of over 1600 students at its Longmeadow campus, and satellite campuses in Sturbridge/Charlton (MA) and Burlington (MA). The College offers undergraduate degrees for women; graduate degrees for men and women; and Bay Path Online, the College’s online center offering graduate degrees and certificates.