Honorine tournament raises money for St. Jude

It’s becoming a tradition, and Scott Gance likes it that way. He would also like to keep it going for years to come.

The fourth annual Honorine St. Jude Golf Classic will tee off Monday, Sept. 16, at Silvermine Golf Club in Norwalk. The event is named in honor of Mr. Gance’s mother, Marcel Gance, whose middle name was Honorine. The day is also in honor of Mr. Gance’s father, Anthony.

Ms. Gance and her husband, an American soldier, left France at the end of World War II before settling in Vestal, N.Y., outside of Binghamton.

“My mom was born in the French Alps,” said Mr. Gance. “During the war, her father was in the French resistance. She was living in Marseilles, going to business school. My dad helped liberate Marseilles. Over there there’s little food. What food they had was bread, and there wasn’t enough for everyone, and what there was they gave to the children. They called it ‘pain brioche.’

“When my mom came to the States, she saw the abundance of food they had here. She wanted to give back, so she made hundreds of these holiday breads. The breads were everywhere in our house. They wouldn’t accept a dime.”

After friends in their community put enough pressure on the Gances to accept payment, Ms. Gance came up with an idea.

“She received a boilerplate letter from St. Jude, and she told friends to donate directly to them. For years, that’s what they did.”

While never seeking attention, Ms. Gance was invited to visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where she met Danny Thomas, the actor and entertainer who founded the hospital in 1962. Mr. Thomas began the charity ALSAC in 1957, which led to the founding of the hospital.

“She raised quite a nice sum for St. Jude for over 30 years,” Mr. Gance said, speaking of his mother.

The St. Jude mission is summed up in a quote from Mr. Thomas, that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” That quote is entrenched in the website for the Honorine golf tournament.

“People don’t realize that not one family pays one dime if their insurance doesn’t cover it,” Mr. Gance said. St. Jude provides whatever they need.”

Cancer would eventually strike both Anthony and Marcel Gance. Ms. Gance moved in with her son and his family in Wilton after her husband died.

“She beat cancer for six years, then it came back with a vengeance,” he said.

Ms. Gance asked her son to carry on supporting St. Jude.

“I can’t bake,” he said. “So I’ll do what I like to do, and that’s golf.”

Marcel Gance died in 2010, and the first tournament was held after her passing. Several soccer-playing friends of Scott Gance raised money, writing checks to St. Jude. The tournament has grown each year, with Mr. Gance beginning a committee to help organize the event. They are now recognized as a 501(c)(3) charity, retroactive to 2012, when they had 68 golfers, and 125 at the ensuing banquet. They raised $50,000.

“It was our third year,” he said. “But it was really our first year.”

The tournament is a labor of love for Mr. Gance, who serves as chairperson and lone salesperson. A quick look around his Belden Hill Road house quickly shows how dominant the event is in his life. Sponsor banners, golf towels, donated golf clubs, and more items are found at every turn.

“You can see how it takes over the house,” Mr. Gance said with a laugh.

While golf is a component of the day, the event is not only for those looking for birdies, eagles, and pars. The awards dinner includes food, drinks, and entertainment, along with a silent auction.

“We have a football autographed by Tom Brady, and a Don Mattingly-autographed baseball,” he said, gesturing to the items.

A Boston Bruins team autographed hockey stick will also be available, to go along with jewelry from Amy Russell Custom Design Jewelry, a wine basket, and trips to Kiawah Island, S.C. and the Equinox Hotel and Resort in Vermont.

All of the auction items, and more details on the tournament are available at honorinestjude.com.

Attendees don’t have to play in the tournament to go to the dinner.

A St. Jude’s family also speaks at the dinner, demonstrating the power of the hospital, which treats cancer and other deadly childhood diseases. The family that spoke at last year’s dinner described the voyage of their son, Colin, who was diagnosed with a severe brain tumor at the age of 3.

“Sloan Kettering and Yale both said there was nothing they could do,” Mr. Gance said. “He was given three to six months to live. They were planning his hospice care and funeral.”

The family was recommended to St. Jude, who flew him to Memphis to treatment.

“Colin is now two years cancer-free,” he said. “He was at our tournament with his parents.”

The silent auction began just after that.

“You’re still crying?” Mr. Gance said. “Good. Give.”

The winners of the tournament will be presented with a trophy and an Honorine St. Jude Classic burgundy jacket in the style of the famed Master’s green jacket presented at the legendary tournament in Augusta, Ga.

The trophy will be displayed at the New Golf Performance Training Center in Ridgefield. The winning foursome in the scramble format will also be invited back to play in the following year’s tournament, with their entry fee waived.

Other golf tournament standards exist, such as closest to the pin, longest drive, and a putting contest. There are still multiple sponsor opportunities available, and Mr. Gance said he is hoping for more salespeople to volunteer to help put the tournament together.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. Mr. Gance is a real estate broker. “All of our net proceeds go to St. Jude’s. We just want to pay our bills.”

Volunteers are needed to help him continue and grow the tournament, especially from a sales angle.

To that end, the event has received support from Heineken, Soccer and Rugby Imports, Splash Car Wash, Morris Media Group, and The Partners Commercial Real Estate Group, among others.

Not that he is totally alone in the effort. A quick glance at the website shows a list of the committee members, sprinkled with Mr. Gance’s own family names, as well as that of Dawn Jeffrey, the event chairperson. But help is still needed and volunteers are welcome.

A pre-tournament event will be held at Sunset Grill in Norwalk on Sept. 3.

“They’re donating 30% of gross sales for the day,” he said. “It’s Honorine Day at Sunset Grill.”

That event will feature music as Mr. Gance and the St. Jude team promote the tournament.

A foursome in the Honorine St. Jude Tournament costs $1,000, and a single player looking to join a foursome costs $275. Tournament players receive a bag that includes a Cutter and Buck golf shirt, golf balls, a golf glove from Nike, greens fees and cart, to go along with food and drinks. Those looking to only attend the dinner may do so for $150.

Surprises may await, as last year, bagpipers appeared out of nowhere on the golf course to play “Amazing Grace” before disappearing.

“I have Scottish friends who thought I did that just for them,” Mr. Gance said, laughing. “I said, ‘yeah, right.”