The 17th edition of the Starkey Hearing Foundation's 'So The World May Hear Awards' Gala was last weekend in St. Paul, with several Vikings players in attendance.
SAINT PAUL —Generations of Vikings family members joined other athletes, actors and activists for the Starkey Hearing Foundation's 17th annual "So the World May Hear" Awards Gala on Sunday at Saint Paul RiverCentre.
The representation of Vikings ranged from Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Chris Doleman and John Randle to roster contemporaries Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Kyle Rudolph, Alex Boone and Michael Floyd, as well as recently retired Chad Greenway.
The top three rushers in Vikings franchise history — Adrian Peterson, Robert Smith and Chuck Foreman — also attended the gala, placing nearly 25,000 rushing yards under one roof. Former receiver Greg Jennings and safety Jack Brewer also attended.
The gala is among the highest-regarded fundraisers in the country and featured performances by Steven Tyler and The Loving Mary Band, Darius Rucker, John Fogerty, Grace VanderWaal, ARIA and Portia Clark.
Comedian Sinbad served as master of ceremonies and put the crowd in stitches shortly after a red carpet entry and silent auction opened the evening. Actors Kevin Sorbo, Chris McDonald, Frankie Muniz, Quinton Aaron, Verne Troyer, Minneapolis music legend Jimmy Jam and Star-Tribune iconic columnist Sid Hartman were among the red carpet participants.
Starkey Hearing Foundation is based in Eden Prairie and donates hearing aids by organizing missions close to home, each year at the Super Bowl and on wide-ranging trips abroad. The foundation also salutes humanitarian efforts of partners and other organizations.
This year, the Wilf Family of the Vikings Ownership was among the awardees for the work that has been accomplished by the Wilf Family Foundations over more than 50 years. The gala also recognized actor and director Ben Affleck for his work through the Eastern Congo Initiative, First Lady of Zambia Madam Esther Lungu, Scott and Sandi Borchetta of Big Machine Records and FedEx.
Vikings Owner/Vice Chairman Lenny Wilf, who has benefitted from Starkey Hearing Technologies later in life and has participated in multiple hearing missions, accepted the award. The Wilf Family Foundations has provided more than $200 million in support for educational, humanitarian, medical, religious and scientific institutions since 1964.
Carlson Holdings Co-Chief Executive Officer Marilyn Carlson Nelson introduced Wilf and said the family is to be commended for paralleling "their business achievement with philanthropic contributions, protecting and promoting human rights."
"I love the fact that I have this opportunity to say thank you to the Wilf Family on behalf of us who now consider them part of our family," said Nelson, who noted the courage of family members who survived the Holocaust and committed to sharing compassion with others.
Wilf directed his focus on the work accomplished by Starkey Hearing Foundation founders Bill and Tani Austin.
"We would first like to sincerely thank Bill and Tani Austin and all of the people at the Starkey Hearing Foundation for awarding us with this great honor," Wilf said. "For more than 50 years, you have helped improve countless lives around the world, including right here in Minnesota, by using hearing to reflect kindness. We are grateful to have witnessed your selfless and empowering work firsthand. It is our admiration for your unwavering efforts that inspired us to help and ultimately be here tonight.
"We've been a part of multiple hearing missions in New York and Minnesota over the years, and they're all impactful, successful and life-changing," Wilf continued. "There is one in particular that we hold very near and dear to our hearts. In 2015, we had the opportunity to join the forces with the foundation, the Minnesota Vikings, the New York Yankees and the Jewish Federations of North America to help give the gift of hearing to nearly 100 children and adults with hearing loss, including more than 20 Holocaust survivors from the New York City area.
"Having parents who survived the Holocaust, it meant a great deal to us to help these survivors live a better quality of life through better hearing," Wilf continued. "After going through something so devastating, every act of kindness and every bit of help makes a difference. That's why we believe in the Starkey Hearing Foundation. They are creating a world full of compassion and understanding for future generations. Great things can happen when people work together for the greater good of humanity, and it's so fulfilling to be part of your mission."
Vikings players and alumni said they were pleased to attend the event in support of the work of the Wilf Family Foundations and Starkey Hearing Foundation because they have witnessed the effort personally or learned through stories that teammates have shared about seeing a child hear for the first time.
"It's always an incredibly special night," Rudolph said. "They raise a ton of money. I've been on missions, I've seen where the money goes and the impact it has on people's lives, not only here, but all across the world.
"Tonight is extra special for us, with the Wilf Family being honored," Rudolph continued. "They've done a ton of incredible work, not only in the Twin Cities but across the country. They deserve this honor."
Smith also has participated in local missions.
"Just seeing the impact of them being fitted for a hearing aid for the first time and the smile that comes on their face and their mother and father's faces is an unreal experience, and it's amazing to watch," Smith said. "With what Bill Austin does and how he's devoted his life to changing others' and also honoring the Wilfs tonight and what they've done to add to that mission, I'm happy to be here and be part of it."
Rudolph, Smith and teammates are part of a locker room that is committed to helping the community in multiple ways, and they said that the Wilf Family sets a good example through its endeavors.
"A lot of times, people give lip service or talk about things, but to actually see your owners leading the way and changing lives, it's important to us as players," Smith said. "We love this community. We love being a part of it. We love playing for the fans and trying to do things to impact the community in a positive way, and to have our leadership do that, this is huge. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Rhodes said it's obviously "one special moment" for a family when a child hears his or her parents' voice or own name for the first time.
"It's unbelievable when you've wanted to do something for all of your life," Rhodes said.
Boone is relatively new to Minnesota but learned about Starkey Hearing Foundation from teammates last year.
"They tell me it's unbelievable," Boone said. "I can't imagine the feeling and just the joy that they bring to the kids and people around the world."
The offensive lineman also strolled down memory lane.
"A Sinbad performance was my wife and I's first date ever," Boone said with a laugh. "We were talking to him about Cleveland."
Greenway, who is in the unfamiliar position of not preparing for Verizon Vikings Training Camp for the first time in more than a decade, said he was pleased to reconnect with Starkey and support the Wilf Family.
"Obviously the Wilfs do a lot of stuff in the community, probably more than we realize," the four-time Vikings Community Man of the Year said. "The fun thing for us is to be part of that organization and what that family means and it really be a family, not just have that be a thing they talk about but a thing they really do. I felt that way for all 11 years."
Additional former Vikings explained their support of the gala:
Carl Eller: "They've really helped so many people, and there are so many other stories out there that talk about their generosity, what they do. Bill has an understanding that hearing is really important, a fundamental right, the way he puts it, and the way he's committed himself to that is just phenomenal."
Chris Doleman: "Once they hear and once they get it, it's like a light bulb turns on. Their eyes open, and a big smile comes on their face. It makes you feel good to be a part of something like that.
"I think [the partnership between the Vikings and Starkey Hearing Foundation is] only good because two great organizations combining their knowledge and power can only be good. The Vikings do a great job throughout the NFL, and Starkey does a great job throughout the hearing world. To have those two together, it's going to be something special. I'm looking forward to the Super Bowl because there are some pretty good things that are going to come out of it."
John Randle: "Starkey is changing kids' lives. Any time you're talking about children — our future — that's what it's all about. Being a part of it, you learn so much about it. It helps me because it shows me how to be better with my charity around the Cities. Being a Viking, a former NFL player, I tell guys that when people give so much to you, you've got to figure out how to give back. This is one of the ways for me to give back. It's an honor to be here with my wife."
Robert Smith:"It's such an unbelievable event. It's my favorite one of the year. Bill and Tani do such a great job, giving so freely of their time all over the world. I think the most important thing is you leave here feeling challenged because you see people that don't need to, giving so much.
"Although we all can't fly over the world and giving out hearing aids, you can change your little part of the world, so I think everyone leaves here inspired.
It's really nice, seeing all of the Vikings [join in support]. They really feel like an extended family.
Adrian Peterson: "Words can't even express — it's such a blessing to experience it and get the full effect of someone hearing sound for the first time, to look in their eyes and just see the emotion that overcomes them, I can't really explain it, but for me, it was such a good feeling to be a part of it, just to be engaged in something that's giving back to others.
"That's what it's all about. I feel like that's what we're here on this earth for, to be able to give back to others and help others any way we can. The fact that there's a lot of Vikings guys here, and I was able to be a mentor and encourage some of those guys to be a part of it, I'm sure they're in their own endeavors as well, but that's what it's all about. It feels good that I was able to give guys that push to be involved."
About Starkey Hearing Foundation
Starkey Hearing Foundation, a public charity co-founded by William F. Austin and Tani Austin, gives the gift of hearing to people in need in the U.S. and around the world. Disabling hearing loss affects more than 360 million people, including 32 million children, yet many do not have access to the hearing devices that improve lives and promote understanding. Starkey Hearing Foundation focuses on hearing health missions, hearing healthcare education and hearing aid recycling. Connect with Starkey Hearing Foundation on Facebook and Twitter, or visit starkeyhearingfoundation.org.