LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Debbie Kroner's connection to an event she's led for the last 14 years is deeply personal.
"The first day I started with Steppin' Out in Pink, my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer," said Kroner.
She joined the event in its second year, her fourth year with the Gundersen Medical Foundation. When Steppin’ Out in Pink began, Kroner said they were expecting around 300 people to take part in the fledgling fundraiser.
But, as she said, "2,900 people showed up."
It's continued to grow with more than 6,000 people taking part in 2019 and a COVID-modified event in 2020. Last year alone contributed $425,000 to the event's running total of $4.9 million and counting. All of that goes to breast cancer research and initiatives.
"We want more survivors," said Kroner. "We want them to discover their breast cancer early, to get checked out and to survive a long time."
Because of Kroner's earlier work with Children's Miracle Network, the organization managed a milestone of $1 million raised in 2008.
"This community embraces kids, embraces women with breast cancer. It's my passion but it became their passion. Most people who raise money in this community know they are so giving, even in this year of COVID."
While COVID-19 may have postponed her plans to getaway somewhere warm to celebrate her retirement from the foundation this coming January, Kroner said calling an end to her career brings an opportunity to take a step in a new direction.
"Come September, hopefully I'll be walking in Steppin’ Out in Pink for the first time ever."
Kroner said she's thankful for those who have given so much, helping her earn the honor of being named this year's Outstanding Professional Fundraiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Upper Mississippi Valley Chapter.
The other recipients this year include: