After considerable backlash, Gilda's Club Madison has reversed its decision to change its name. The cancer support group announced Wednesday that it will stick with the name of the late "Saturday Night Live" comedian Gilda Radner in its title.
"We received a lot of passionate feedback from our community," said the organization's executive director, Lannia Stenz. "We heard people speak passionately about the love that they had for Gilda, for her story, and most importantly, our members talked about the warmth that the name Gilda's Club lends to the kind of cancer support that we offer."
In November, the organization announced its decision to change its name to Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin, taking on the name of the national organization with which it is affiliated.
The main reason for the change, Stenz told the State Journal at the time, was that college students and other young people with cancer were unfamiliar with the comedian, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989. "We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there's not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors," she said.
After the local announcement, the story got picked up nationally, and there was considerable fallout, with outraged Radner fans complaining on message boards and the organization's Facebook page.
"Brand identity does not rely on people knowing who the person was but merely remembering the person's name," read one Yahoo! comment. "Susan G. Komen is proof of that."
Gilda's Club was founded in 1995 by Radner's therapist, her husband Gene Wilder and many of her friends. In 2009, it merged with The Wellness Community and created Cancer Support Community, a global organization dedicated to making sure "no one faces cancer alone."
Of the 53 chapters of Cancer Support Community worldwide, 23 are known as Gilda's Club, said Linda House, the national group's executive vice president of external affairs.
"Both the national office and the national board were fully supportive of their sticking with Gilda's Club," House said of the decision.
Gilda's Club Madison has more than 2,200 members, 1,600 active, from 26 counties, Stenz said. Membership is free and open to anyone affected by cancer. The organization offers lectures, workshops and other events and invites members to spend quiet time in the "It's always something" room, named for a Radner catch phrase that became the title of her memoir.
An original "SNL" cast member, Radner was known for her quirky characters including Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella and Baba Wawa.
Members of the Chicago-based improv comedy group Second City (before "SNL," Radner was a member of the troupe's Toronto branch) were some of the first to express their disappointment with the name change, Stenz said.
They promised that if the group kept its name, they would come to town for a fundraiser, Stenz said. Honoring that commitment, Second City is planning a benefit in Madison this spring. No date or location is set yet.
When people come to the local clubhouse, which is based in Middleton, the Gilda name is something they find "warm, inviting and embracing," Stenz said.