Gilda Radner left a legacy as a groundbreaking comedienne who died 23 years ago, spawning a national cancer group named after her.
Now part of that legacy is in jeopardy as the Madison, Wisconsin-area chapter of Gilda’s Club announced plans to change its name, in part because of concern that not enough people know who Radner was, The Associated Press reported.
The organization changed its name to Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, realizing that most college students today were born after Gilda Radner’s death in 1989.
“We are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis,” Lannia Syren Stenz, the Madison-area club’s executive director, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.”
The decision brought outrage from Gilda Radner fans, many of whom expressed their frustration on the organization’s Facebook page.
“The only educating you’re doing is teaching kids that when they die from cancer, their name will be erased from history in 20 years because the next generation doesn’t know who they are. Way to give them hope!” wrote Mark Warneke, 44, a full-time college student in Arlington, Texas.
Linda House, executive vice president of the national group, told The Associated Press that Gilda Radner will remain an important part of the organization.
“Gilda Radner is very much a part of the fiber of this organization,” House said. “There has never been an intent and there is no intent to lose Gilda as part of the organization.”
The organization itself took to Facebook on Thursday to clarify what it saw as misconceptions in the media, saying that there was not a mandate for Gilda’s Clubs to change their name.
The organization noted:
“The legacy of Gilda Radner will always be an important part of the past, present and future of our affiliate network and organization. As many of you know, when Gilda was diagnosed with cancer in the 80s, she went to a place called The Wellness Community in California. She noted on page 139 of her book, It’s Always Something, “To this day I have the highest regard for the work of The Wellness Community. I wish there were a thousand more of them.”
“In 2009, The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club joined forces in an effort to serve even more people affected by cancer. At no time has it been mandated that any local affiliate, either The Wellness Community or Gilda’s Club, change its name to Cancer Support Community. All affiliates have always been given the choice to be called Gilda’s Club, The Wellness Community, or Cancer Support Community. That is because we are an organization that empowers its network to make these kinds of decisions locally. Most importantly, we want all affiliates to fulfill our mission of serving those impacted by cancer. The real story here is that approximately 3,000 people were diagnosed with cancer today and instead of telling them about our free services, we are focusing on a story that is not based in any fact. We hope that those who read about us and our network will tell people they know with cancer about our work and free services and help advance our vision that no one faces cancer alone.”
The statement was little consolation to Gilda Radner fans, as the post drew many more angry replies within minutes of being posted.