When Bayville’s Bailey Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia just before his third birthday in 2000, his family made a promise.
“We said when this is over, we are going to throw a big party,” said Alice Lovegrove, Bailey’s mom, smiling at the memory.
Bay, as Bailey is affectionately called, endured three years of chemotherapy. Luckily, he does not remember much from that time, only that it was “kind of stressful.” When he completed his last treatment in June 2003 at the age of 6, his family stayed true to their word and threw a big backyard bash to celebrate.
That summer, Bayfest was born.
When family and friends asked what they could buy for Bailey to bring to the party, Lovegrove told everyone, “Bailey already has the best present of all.”
So instead the family collected donations for the cancer center that the family credited with Bailey’s recovery: Winthrop University Hospital’s Cancer Center for Kids in Mineola.
Now, the event has become a family tradition. Each year, with help from a loyal team of family, friends and neighborhood volunteers, the Ryan-Lovegrove family hosts Bayfest in Bayville to raise money for the Winthrop cancer center. The event has grown into a community affair. On Saturday, they threw party number 10.
“There is no better way for us to thank an organization that held our hands, said it was all going to be OK, and supported us through it all,” Lovegrove said. “I do believe their attitude has made a fundamental impact.”
Bailey is now 15, a 10th-grader at Locust Valley High School, and cancer free.
“I feel so grateful for the people who helped me along the way, like my parents, my doctors, my family and friends,” he said. “It couldn’t have been an easy time for them.”
This year, the family moved the event from the summer to the fall and experimented with a German theme. There was a German-themed buffet, a polka band, hayrides, Halloween costumes for sale and pumpkin decorating for the kids.
So far the family has raised more than $500,000 for the cancer center, not including Saturday’s fall festival.
Linda Sweeney, pediatric development manager at Winthrop who attended the fundraiser, said the funds go to the center’s psychosocial team, which provides programs and services — including music therapy, child life services and child psychology services — to help children and families through the difficult time.
Many people, like Jennifer Davis, of Huntington, have attended the event every year since its inception. A friend of Lovegrove’s since the seventh-grade, she said she’s impressed with how the family chose to celebrate Bailey’s recovery and support a good cause.
“They took something that was difficult to deal with and turned it around,” she said. “It’s very inspiring.”
Above: Bailey Ryan, center, with his father, Michael Ryan; his mother, Alice Lovegrove; and his sisters, Lindsey Ryan, 14, and Katie Ryan, 16. (Oct. 20, 2012)