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Speech by Ross Bonander at the 2006 Unity Walk

Speech by Ross Bonander, April 29, 2006

Ross BonanderI'm very proud today to be presenting an award named after my father that honors outstanding contribution to Parkinson's advocacy. But to me, the award spotlights the courage and power in a fighter's own unique swing to the face of Parkinson's Disease.

When you quit anything in life, you don't just lose; you give up the chance, the right, to take another swing at your opponent. When my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1984, a long, sunless winter enveloped his life. During this dark time he saw doctors and asked questions and grew frustrated with what he perceived as the medical community's ignorance of Parkinson's Disease. But my dad was a computer guy, so he metabolized that frustration with his love of computers and the burgeoning internet. He became an aggressive patient advocate who wanted to close the gap between doctor and patient, illness and wellness. His way of taking a swing at Parkinson's was to lace on the gloves of those who felt they had no swing left. One day, in response to being asked what kept him going, my Dad responded, "I'm not a quitter."

Unfortunately for Parkinson's Disease, this year's winner is, in his own words, "always up for a good fight." His unassuming nature belies the rock n roll ferociousness of his personal swing at Parkinson's.

Bob Benjamin is a lifelong music fan, an artist manager with his own record label, and he holds a rare place in the music world: The artists he manages think the world of him. When diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1996, he knew he had a fight on his hands. On his birthday in 1997 he organized a fund-raising concert to benefit Parkinson's research, taking in a very respectable $2000. The following year he did it again, but by 2000, he began calling the concert Light of Day, a name for him loaded with symbolism, inspired in part by the message of hope it conveyed: things may seem dark right now, but the sun always rises. Every winter concedes to the glory of spring.

Light of Day has gone from a modest one-night concert at a New Jersey club to a highly anticipated three-night event that, all told, has raised over $750,000 for Parkinson's research. In a telling testament to the esteem and respect Bob inspires, famous musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Garland Jeffreys gladly donate their time and talent at Light of Day every year, both to benefit Parkinson's research and to honor the man they admire.

Every note blasting out from the Jersey shore is another swing Bob takes in the fight against Parkinson's Disease. It is therefore my great honor to introduce the winner of this year's Alan Bonander Humanitarian award, Light of Day founder and New Jersey's own Mr. Bob Benjamin.

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