The Father’s Day Council Tucson is preparing to spotlight outstanding local dads — and support research for type 1 diabetes — during the 24th Annual Father of the Year Awards Gala Dinner & Ultimate Raffle.

The event is May 31 at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort & Spa.

The fundraiser is celebrating its 24th consecutive year of paying tribute to fathers who are successful in their fields and serve as role models in the community. In the process, it has raised nearly $4 million to support an endowment and research into type 1 diabetes at Steele Children’s Research Center at the University of Arizona.

“We are $250,000 away from completing the funding for our Father’s Day Council Tucson Type 1 Diabetes Endowment and hope to complete it this year,” said Lee Shaw, who is chair of the gala for the fifth time. “We try to raise $300,000 a year to help with research, clinical care and equipment and to serve as a support system for Steele Director Dr. Fayez Ghishan, who is a force of nature. The work that he does really directly impacts the community.”

Shaw has experienced that impact on a personal level: His daughter, Olivia, 20, has been a patient at Steele since she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 22 months.

Type 1 diabetes — formerly known as juvenile diabetes — is an autoimmune disease that results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. To counteract the destruction of these cells, patients must inject insulin or infuse it continually with a pump in order to prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, both of which can lead to unconsciousness, coma and death. The disease is challenging to manage and over time can result in complications including vision loss, kidney and nerve damage and disease to the heart and blood vessels.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate 695,000 children and adults are living with diabetes in Arizona and about 10 percent of those have type 1 diabetes. During 2017, 560 children with Type1 diabetes were treated at Steele.

Shaw said organizations such as the Father’s Day Council — along with generous individual supporters — have made a world of difference for Southern Arizonans who live with the disease and their families.

“The care that was available when my daughter was diagnosed is nothing like it is today due to Dr. Ghishan’s work and the support of organizations like the Father’s Day Council and Angel Charity for Children ,” Shaw said.

Ashley Hammarstrom, UA Health Sciences Special Events Development Office program manager, emphasized that fundraisers such as the Father’s Day Gala are vital to the Steele center.

“These endowments have enabled us to recruit top researchers from around the nation and the world to Steele. It has become a premier children’s research center that attracts people not only from Arizona, but from all over the country and internationally,” Hammarstrom said.

Shaw said the ability to continue to recruit innovative researchers remains critical .

“As parents starting out, our goal was to find a cure, which is much harder than one can imagine. We have been doing this for 20 years now and there are times that I am not so concerned about a cure — though it could be right around the corner — but I want to keep raising money to understand why this happens,” Shaw said. “What triggers type 1 diabetes and makes someone’s body attack itself? With DNA sequencing, mapping genomes and other technologies, I would love to know if someone is predisposed for this and have researchers figure out how to stop it from happening.”

Shaw says he believes that unlocking these secrets will have far-ranging implications for many diseases and is gratified to have the support year after year of local men who manage to balance careers, fatherhood and civic achievements.

Father of the Year honorees for 2018 are:

  • Bill Assenmacher, CEO of CAID Industries.
  • Rudy Dabdoub, partner in North Face Investments LLC.
  • Ryan Hansen, president and COO of Bon Voyage Travel.
  • Richard Kauffman, CFO of Holualoa Cos.
  • Master Sgt. Timothy D. Ledford, 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
  • Tony Penn, president/CEO of United Way of Tucson & Southern Arizona.
  • Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and his father, the late Lowell Rothschild (in memoriam).

“When you hear the stories of these amazing honorees and what great fathers they are and all that they do to make the community better, it is just so inspirational,” Hammarstrom said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net