Oysterfest donates more than $20K to local families, melanoma research

Photo Courtesy of Joe Schram
From left are Ellen Davenport, Karen Semian, Donald Davenport, Danielle Medeiros, Lily B. Miller, Poppy Miller, Tom Varbero, Grace Miller, John Meade, Tom Westdyk, Margot Miller, Eve Miller, Carol V. Fardin, Amy Jo and Patrick Curran.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Recently, the Robert J. Miller Foundation donated $20,000 to the Melanoma Research Foundation in memory of Chris Westdyk. The funds were raised from the fifth annual Oysterfest celebration in September.

Bob Miller was a longtime Maplewood resident who lived in the heart of town with his wife, Grace, and their four daughters. At age 45, he was diagnosed with melanoma and, despite a courageous two-year battle, he died in March 2014. Later that year, Grace Miller, along with devoted friends and township leaders, organized the inaugural charity event. 

“This event is therapy for me and the girls because it honors Bob while also raising awareness about melanoma,” Grace Miller said.

This year, the Westdyk family has partnered with the MRF. Their son, Chris Westdyk, was diagnosed at the age of 16 and battled with the cancer until he died earlier this year — a reminder that it is never too early to screen for melanoma. In his honor and memory, donations to MRF will be in Chris Westdyk’s name. 

The check was given to the MRF in front of St. James’s Gate, with Tom Westdyk, Chris’ father, there to present the donation.

“We are grateful to all of this year’s Oysterfest volunteers and participants for their generous support of the Melanoma Research Foundation in memory of our son,” Tom Westdyk said. “The research, patient advocacy and educational support provided by the MRF made an incredible difference during Chris’ six-year battle with melanoma. This organization continues to support so many patients and their families, while it helps to drive science toward more effective treatments and one day a cure for this terrible disease.” 

Thousands of locals and out-of-towners turned out for the fifth annual Robert J. Miller Oysterfest for Melanoma Awareness event on Sept. 14. This township of Maplewood–designated health event, has become a favorite early fall “town party” at The Woodland. All ages can enjoy food and drinks, live bands and entertainment, and children’s activities — all for an important cause benefited by admission donations. 

Attendees are also encouraged to “Get Naked in the ’Wood” for complementary and convenient skin screenings by a team of on-site dermatologists for early detection of melanoma skin cancer. While this is a fatal and aggressive disease, it is also remarkably preventable if caught early.

As a 501(c)3 organization, the RJM Foundation is able to reserve a set of donations for local families, which is even more meaningful. During the last five years, the Oysterfest donations have been presented to 12 families who have either experienced the sudden loss of a family member or are facing financial stress due to medical bills, and can use the financial aid to get through times of crisis. 

The sixth annual Oysterfest is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2020. To learn more, make a donation or purchase a holiday hoodie, visit www.bobmilleroysterfest.com.