Where it began
As the Terri Brodeur Foundation celebrates its milestones, we are taking a look back and talking with those who helped get the foundation started and who have continued to support its mission over the years of raising money and designating every dollar donated toward breast cancer research. This year marks the 15th anniversary of TBF, which was established in February 2006. We held our first walking marathon fundraiser in October 2006 and this year we are celebrating our 16th walk.
Meet Michelle Sottile-Hoyt and Doug Hoyt
Michelle Sottile-Hoyt wasn’t sure what to think in 2005 when she heard a fledgling foundation dedicated to funding research to find a cure for breast cancer wanted to name the organization after her sister Terri Brodeur, who had recently died from the disease.
Her brother-in-law, Tim Brodeur, who worked with Norma Logan at Pfizer Inc. had invited her to Logan’s home, where Logan was pitching an idea for a non-profit that would give 100 percent of fundraising dollars to breast cancer research. Logan welcomed Sottile-Hoyt with a hug and a smile.
“I was just taken by this woman who was fighting breast cancer herself and wanted to eradicate it,” Sottile-Hoyt said. “She reminded me of my sister. She was very kind and very warm. And she made you feel like she really knew you.”
After one meeting with Logan, she knew this was a project her late sister would have supported.
Sottile-Hoyt joined Logan’s friends and colleagues from Pfizer Inc. to help establish the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation. Logan named it in honor of Terri, who she met while the two were going through breast cancer treatment together. Terri died in 2005 from the disease. Norma died six months later in 2006.
Logan’s idea was to raise money by hosting a “Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut ” which would be a signature event. A solid group of supporters and contributors, which included Sottile-Hoyt and her husband, Doug Hoyt, stepped up and have continued to remain involved ever since. Sotille-Hoyt is also a member of the Board of Directors.
They launched the foundation and sponsored the first walking marathon from Old Saybrook, where Terri lived with her husband and three children, to Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, where Terri grew up. Sottile-Hoyt said Norma spent summers at Harkness, where her grandfather was a groundskeeper.
Sottile-Hoyt has participated in 12 of the last 15 marathons and plans to participate in the virtual walk option for 2021. In 2007 she walked with Terri’s son Sean Brodeur, who was only 9 years old at the time. She has walked with one or a combination of all of Terri’s three children, Sean, Ashley, and Melanie. Terri’s other siblings, children, and in-laws have either walked or volunteered in every walk.
Aside from being a proud sister, she said being “Auntie Shell” is one of her biggest and proudest joys.
She walks “to push me, and I want the kids to be proud of their auntie,” she said.
“When I’m struggling, when it feels like my feet are walking on hot coals … I think one day of pain for me is nothing compared to what my sister, Norma and or other people go through who have fought or are fighting with chemotherapy and radiation,” she said.
Doug Hoyt has also supported the foundation from day one. His brother-in-law Tim Brodeur asked for his help that first year in setting up tables and chairs and corresponding items associated with opening and closing ceremonies. When the second walk came around in 2007, Tim asked Hoyt to be his co-captain. Since 2008, after Tim died, Hoyt has continued to be co-captain of opening and closing ceremonies. He has had numerous helpers along the way, who continue to ensure that the event runs smoothly and is successful.
Some of Hoyt’s responsibilities include transporting all walk day materials to and from Old Saybrook to Waterford; coordinating with Pfizer to borrow tables and chairs; and contacting local police departments for traffic cones. At the end of the walk, Hoyt usually has finished a 16-hour day, which doesn’t include helping the night before or the day after, and yearly walk captain meetings.
“I don’t mind giving and volunteering my time for a worthy cause,” he said. But for him there is an end goal. “I want to help out to the point that we no longer need the foundation.”
Sottile-Hoyt admitted that the foundation is bittersweet for her.
“I miss my sister, of course. But it’s nice to see her legacy go on. I’m more at peace now, 16 years out from her passing, than I was in the first few years,” she said.
Naming the foundation after Terri was “such an incredible gesture,” she said.
“I think my sister would be proud to have something so positive come from her suffering. She’d be honored knowing that all these people that didn’t know her, had no personal connection with her, walk or volunteer every year in her name and have raised millions for research.”
To date, the foundation has raised more than $5.2 million, which has been awarded in the form of grants to 52 breast cancer researchers. Most of the funds have been raised by the walking marathon.