Last year, Insider brought you the story of 9-year-old Harper Wehneman, who was battling cancer, and her inspirational family who shared her story candidly. Brian and Melissa Wehneman lost their daughter on Dec. 30, 2014, but in the 10 months since her death, they have created a nonprofit in Harper’s memory, called Hope From Harper, that raises funds for childhood cancer research and helps other families who find themselves facing the same harrowing circumstances.
Armed with the same uplifting positivity that Harper exhibited, the family has chosen #choosejoy as the nonprofit’s mantra. They’ve hosted several fundraisers, but their biggest yet was for March’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation in which the Hope From Harper team raised more than $75,000.
On Friday, Nov. 6, Hope From Harper is hosting the first-ever “Bootlegger’s Bash,” a speakeasy-themed fundraiser held at New Albany’s Calumet Club. The event will feature ’20s-era jazz music by members of Billy Goat Strut, a silent auction, dinner, drinks and dancing, as well as a prize for the best themed attire.
Brian Wehneman tells Insider they decided on a speakeasy theme the moment they saw Bliss Hall inside the Calumet Club.
“The exposed brick walls just screamed a speakeasy,” he says. “We had just watched ‘Gatsby’ with Leonardo DiCaprio, and so a 1920s theme party seemed obvious and came to be.”
Wehneman explains the decision to keep Harper’s spirit alive through the nonprofit gave him and his wife a chance to help others going through the same experiences, raise more money for childhood cancer research — an area that is vastly underserved — and also help them heal in a way.
“Establishing and doing work for the charity has been therapeutic in many ways,” he says. “It gives us the opportunity to continue to talk about and think about Harper in a way that is positive. Harper lives on in our house and our daily activities, in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”
The Wehnemans — Brian, Melissa and daughters Cadence and Finley — have been dealing with Harper’s death one day at a time. Holidays are tough, says Wehneman, and little things most people ignore, like Facebook’s time-hop memory feature, tend to stir up emotions — both good and bad.
“There are good days and bad days,” he says. “Tuesdays are sometimes hard, as that’s the day Harper passed away. But overall, we’re doing pretty well, getting back to living life. It really is true that you don’t really get over it, you just learn to move on.”
Wehneman has no doubt that Harper would be proud of how the family has carried on her legacy. He feels her jovial spirit each and every day, and that’s enough to keep him and his family moving forward through positivity, just like she would have wanted — and Harper, for those who were fortunate to know her, often got what she wanted by flashing that playful smile and batting those big, bright eyes.
“Harper was almost always exceptionally happy, even when facing incredible adversity,” says Wehneman. “I think she would be most proud that we have focused on ways to bring joy and hope to other kids fighting cancer — either through emotional support or through making it possible to survive and enjoy getting to grow up. I also think she would love the hashtags we use, like #choosejoy and #sharehope.”