LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the past 12 years, the Barnstable Brown Annual Derby Eve Gala has raised and donated approximately $16.7 million to combat diabetes, a disease that disproportionally affects Kentuckians.

Even with being on hiatus for the second straight year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, support from the gala continues affording staff at the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center at the University of Kentucky Hospital quick access to much-needed technology and a robust team that makes it easier to traverse the challenges of the pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • Annual Derby Eve event has raised more than $16 million in past 12 years

  • Star-studded gala canceled for second straight year because of COVID-19 pandemic

  • UK Diabetes Center Director says past donations have gone a long way

  • Return of fundraiser expected in 2022

“Typically, the party has been extremely successful,” said Dr. John Fowlkes, a pediatric endocrinologist and the center’s director. “They've been able to provide us, over the past few years, in the $600,000 to $1 million-dollar range, and that is substantial support.”

Established in 2008 by twin sisters Patricia Barnstable Brown and Priscilla Barnstable, along with their mother, Wilma, the UK Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center is a leader in diabetes treatment, prevention, education and research. The family pledged the initial funding to support the center in memory of Patricia Barnstable Brown’s husband, David, who passed away in 2003 from complications of diabetes.

Each year, thousands of children and adults visit the experts at the center to manage and treat Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, gestational diabetes, and other diabetes-related diseases.

More than 440,000 adults in Kentucky have diabetes, equating to 12.9% of the commonwealth’s 18-and-older population, which is the seventh-highest percentage in the nation. More than 280,000 people, or 10% of Kentucky adults, have been diagnosed with prediabetes. Still, many more people may be unaware that they have it, as only 60% of adults undergo diabetes or prediabetes screenings.

The star-studded gala that takes place at the Barnstable home in Louisville has been an annual tradition on Derby Eve for more than three decades.

Tanya Tucker with Spectrum News 1's Jonathon Gregg in 2019

The Barnstable Brown family said in a statement that while it was a tough decision to cancel the 2020 and 2021 galas because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, they are thankful for previously donated funds because those dollars will continue to provide much-needed support to those in need of diabetic care. Fowlkes echoed that sentiment.

“Every dollar that comes in, we don't spend that year,” Fowlkes said. “When you're working with donors, you earmark funds for certain things you plan to do, or are doing. I think we're good fiduciaries. We take the funds and we spend them on a variety of things, but it's not that we spend down to nothing at the end of the year.” 

Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady enjoy the Barnstable Brown party in 2019 (Spectrum News 1/Jonathon Gregg)

Fowlkes said the Barnstable Family took advantage of the center’s philanthropy group to “diversify the portfolio,” resulting in funds donated early becoming endowments put into an investment pool to support the center, as well as individuals, such as chairs and other positions, so those, as long as the return on the dollar is similar from year to year, the money continues giving back even with no funds deposited. 

As for the gala’s cancellation, Fowlkes said it is a sort of “culture shock.”

“The gala itself is pretty legendary as it plays into the whole Derby weekend,” he said. “These are things that we think about that should always be there. It's a fun time, and that's one of the things I've always really liked about the gala is not only does it help our center, but is also a really fun time. There are two good things that come out of it: Everybody has a good time; they meet new people and see celebrities, and, at the same time, it benefits a good cause in the center. It's really missed.”

Fowlkes said the gala is about much more than fundraising. 

“What it really is about is that this family has spent decades raising money for the center and diabetes in general,” he said. “That goodwill that you see through a continued commitment is kind of hard to find. This is a lot of energy to put into these kinds of events to produce every year. I'm confident if we hadn't had a pandemic, they would do it. I know they would. It's really just a matter of the times are such we all have to be responsible. There is some timeframe in which there may be some short-lived consequences, but that's not going to long-term affect our mission.”