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“Top Dollar Dave” is top fundraiser for 2020 Dempsey Challenge

Dennis Richardson travels across Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge on his way from Brunswick to Bailey Island during his 100-mile personal ride on Sept. 27 as part of the annual Dempsey Challenge to raise money for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston and South Portland. Laurie Steele, publisher of the Twin City Times, made a final donation just days before Richardson’s ride to push him to his $15,000 fundraising goal that saw him wearing pink and purple tutus along with a pink tiara. (Beth Comeau photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

Dennis Richardson of Turner reached his fundraising goal for the Dempsey Challenge, wearing tutus and a tiara on his ride to celebrate. But he didn’t collect as much as David Gervais of Lewiston, who brought in $21,528 for the Challenge.

They call him “Top Dollar Dave”, and he’s earned the title by being one of the top individual fundraisers since the Dempsey Challenge began in 2009.

Ever since he reached adulthood, Gervais has been fundraising for one worthy group or another.

For the past years, he has concentrated on raising money for the Dempsey Challenge, to help the Dempsey Center at its locations in Lewiston and South Portland. He was the top individual fundraiser for this year when the Challenge fundraising officially ended last week.

For the first time, the Challenge had set a fundraising goal, at $1.5M. When the clock was stopped at a minute before midnight on Sept. 30, the Challenge had raised $1,195,494 against that goal.

Gervais had a big hand in reaching that final amount, raising more money than anyone else through old-fashioned direct-mail pieces..

Next in line with fundraising was Travis McKenzie at $21,409 as the team captain of the Musette Restaurant team, which raised a total of $42,366 for the Dempsey Challenge.

Kathy Seymour Dettmann raised $17,776 as team captain of the Ann’s Purple Pugs team, which raised a total of $20,923.

Dennis Richardson of Turner, a childhood friend of Patrick Dempsey, raised $15,605 as team captain of the Be The Miracle team, that raised a total of $53,551. Richardson had been challenged by his wife, Lori, to wear pink and purple tutus on his personal ride if he surpassed their goal of raising at least $15,000. Twin City Times publisher Laurie Steele made a last-minute donation to push Richardson to his goal so he would have to wear the tutus.

The Dempsey center provides services for free to its clients dealing with the impact of cancer, so fundraising is vital to its mission of care.

That mission took a sharp turn earlier this year as the Center closed its doors through at least the end of December and transitioned to virtual services.

Then came the challenge of raising the funds to pay for those services, all without allowing the traditional crowds of people at fundraising events. So the Dempsey Challenge for 2020 featured online events through the Zwift platform, an online training app for running and cycling. Events included virtual 10-, 25-, 45- and 60-mile rides. Cyclists shared individual rides on Strava, another virtual training app for runners and cyclists

Gervais mailed out well over 1,000 letters to donors, receiving back checks “for $5, $25, and up to $100,” said Tish Caldwell from the Dempsey Center. “That’s how he does his fundraising!” Over the years, Gervais has helped raise more than $160,000 for the Center.

Gervais was born and raised in Lewiston, and works in the kitchen at the student center at Bates College in Lewiston. With his fundraising for the Dempsey Challenge, “He’s giving back to an organization that’s right here in his hometown,” Caldwell said. “I think he truly feels the connection and the love that he so well deserves.”

“It was tough for him this year,” because everything was virtual, she said. Gervais did a 10-mile bicycle ride with his sister, as well as running. He has ridden with Patrick Dempsey in past years. “Every year he gets to connect and see Patrick,” Caldwell said.

Gervais’ sister created an Instagram account for him over the Dempsey Challenge weekend so he could post photographs from his ride.

Patrick Dempsey takes part in the virtual Dempsey Challenge ride to raise funds for the Dempsey Center that he helped start, while Deneka Deletetsky and Mel Blakely handle streaming and social media. Hanging on the wall is a portrait of Dempsey with his mother, Amanda, who’s bouts with cancer led him to create the Dempsey Challenge in 2009. His mother died from complications of cancer in 2014. (Photo courtesy of the Dempsey Center)

While the Challenge did not reach its goal, it actually reached the approximate dollar amount raised in previous years. “For this year, we thought, let’s just go for $1.5M . . . then COVID kicked in!” Caldwell said. The development team at the Center had hoped that setting a goal this year would increase fundraising from previous years.

Amgen has been the presenting sponsor for the Dempsey Challenge since its inception in 2009.

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