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Fifty years, $50 million
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Board of Barrow Neurological Foundation

Barrow Women's Board through the years.
(March 2015) - Barrow Neurological Institute was in its infancy when a group of women formed a philanthropic group to raise funds and awareness for the fledgling brain and spine center. The Women’s Board of Barrow Neurological Foundation was launched on Oct. 22, 1965, just three years after Barrow opened.

On New Year’s Eve of that same year, the group held the first Barrow Grand Ball at Casa Blanca Inn. The event—at $200 a couple, the most expensive ball in town—raised $26,000 ($147,000 in today’s dollars).

Since then, the Women’s Board and its impact have grown in size and significance. Today, the group is the single largest donor to Barrow Neurological Foundation, and its members continue to contribute to Barrow in myriad ways—from providing seed money for novel research ideas and contributing start-up funds for new centers of excellence to supporting nurse and physician education at Barrow.

“Without the Women’s Board, Barrow Neurological Institute would not exist as it does today,” says Barrow Director Robert Spetzler, MD. “They have been a source of support both monetarily and spiritually. They’ve really been pivotal to Barrow’s success.”

The Women’s Board’s biggest annual project has always been the Barrow Grand Ball. In 1969, the event moved to the Arizona Biltmore, where the first of several masked balls was held. The masks were shelved in 1977—except for one last ball in 1997—but the balls have continued year after year.

Their success is undisputed—in the last decade, each Barrow Grand Ball has raised an average of $2.4 million for Barrow.

Ball preparations begin a year in advance with the announcement of the next year’s co-chairs. The women plan and execute every detail of the elaborate event, from their fundraising focus for the year to invitations and table decorations. Preparations always include a meeting with Dr. Spetzler to discuss Barrow’s funding needs.

Funds raised by the ball come from individual gifts solicited by board members, gifts ranging from $5,000 to $1,000,000 and more, instead of from sponsorships and auctions, as is so often the case at charity events.

The Women’s Board has contributed significantly to advances at Barrow, especially in the areas of research and medical education. Of particular importance, notes Dr. Spetzler, is seed funding for new research.

“By supporting new research projects, the Women’s Board has enabled Barrow scientists to successfully apply for big grants from organizations like the National Institutes of Health,” he says. “If we hadn’t had that source of money, we wouldn’t have the large research enterprise we do today.”

Several Barrow centers received start-up funding from the Women’s Board, most notably the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center and Barrow Center for Neuromodulation.

The Women’s Board has also invested heavily in medical education—from endowments used to recruit and retain neuroscience superstars to a scholarship fund that allows Barrow nurses to pursue further education.

The J.N. Harber Chair of Neurological Surgery, for instance, was established in 1983 by the Women’s Board, with funding from the J.N. Harber Foundation. The chair helped bring Dr. Spetzler to Barrow that year by providing support for his research—a big draw for the then 37-year-old rising star.

In addition to raising critical funds for Barrow, the Women’s Board has introduced countless community members to Barrow. An invitation to attend the Barrow Grand Ball is often the first step in a relationship with Barrow Neurological Institute.

One friend-raiser, which has been held in various forms through the years, is an educational event that invites guests to hear from Barrow specialists about the latest advances in neuroscience. This year’s event gave attendees an opportunity to learn about ground- breaking medical initiatives underway at Barrow.

“The Women’s Board has supported things at Barrow that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” says Dr. Spetzler. “They are an incredibly committed group of intelligent, delightful individuals. I wish them a happy anniversary from the bottom of my heart.” 

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