BLACKSBURG – Ellen Burnop, the wife of Virginia Tech Hall of Famer and Tech radio color commentator Mike Burnop, passed away 16 months ago. But a group of friends closely associated with the family and Virginia Tech are determined to do something she would have wanted – take a negative and make it into a positive.
A benefit dinner and auction honoring Ellen’s memory will be held Friday, Sept. 20, at the German Club on the Tech campus. All of the proceeds from the event will go to The V Foundation for Cancer Research in Ellen Burnop’s name and be used for lung cancer research.
As most remember, Ellen lost her challenge with lung cancer on May 11, 2012, at the age of 59. She was a 1975 graduate of Tech and worked side by side with Mike at their New River Office Supply business.
Not surprisingly, the event sold out quickly, in a matter of a few weeks.
“I think we could have filled Lane Stadium,” said Lynn Schnurr, Ellen’s best friend. “We were sold out totally in a matter of five weeks, and I had to turn people away. I felt terrible. People were wanting to buy eight tickets and sponsor a table, but we had maxed out the German Club.
“The German Club is such a wonderful venue for this. It’s right across from Lane Stadium, and Ellen loved sports. It’s perfect.”
Lynn and her husband, Rodney, were the driving forces behind this benefit dinner. The Northern Virginia couple knew the Burnop family well, as Rodney and Mike were teammates at Tech in the early 1970s, and Lynn and Ellen were best friends for more than 40 years.
In Lynn’s discussions with Ellen during her ordeal, she learned from Ellen that very little research was being done on lung cancer compared to other cancers. Ellen wanted to see more lung cancer research to help others if it couldn’t help her.
So the Schnurrs and Mike Burnop decided on a benefit dinner to raise money for lung cancer research. They decided to align with The V Foundation for several reasons.
“The reason we selected the V Foundation was because they set up two funds – one to handle the administrative costs and the other which was donations for research,” Lynn Schnurr said. “We wanted every single dollar from the benefit dinner to go to research. When you consider that and Ellen’s and Mike’s association with athletics, it just made sense. And you look at Jim Valvano [the former NC State coach who passed away from cancer and for whom the foundation is named] saying ‘Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ that just epitomized Ellen’s approach.
“I so admired her fight and her desire to live. It was always like, ‘Game on.’ Whatever news it was, good, bad or whatever, it was always, ‘Game on.’ She was focused and she was going to fight it.”
The Schnurrs enlisted several local forces to help put the benefit dinner together, including Nancy Brittle and Carole Braine, the wife of former Tech AD Dave Braine. Also, Chris Arians, the wife of former Tech quarterback and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, helped by securing items for the auction. Bruce Arians and Mike Burnop were teammates at Tech as well.
The group also had a website created – www.onellenswings.com. Though the actual dinner is sold out, people can go to this website and bid on the auction items, or simply make a private donation to The V Foundation in Ellen’s name. Auction items include autographed jerseys from Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Also, a David Wilson jersey from his playing days at Tech and a Frank Beamer autographed helmet will be up for bid.
Given the quick sellout of this event, it’s hard to see this being a one-time deal. In fact, those involved see this benefit dinner becoming a must-attend event going forward, particularly considering the popularity of both Ellen and Mike Burnop and the wonderful cause.
“I certainly don’t want this to be a one-time thing,” Lynn said. “This is to help raise money for research for lung cancer, which is on the rise. And it’s on the rise particularly among women. So it’s critical that we get research and help find a cure.”
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