When Sue Martin resigned as Executive Director of Mardi Gras Pensacola more than 25 years ago, she had an idea to create an event to benefit the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. The first of its kind, the black-tie ball would be affordable and open to the public, regardless of krewe affiliation.

Sue approached Candy Carlisle, then Manager of Marketing at Cordova Mall, with a wild plan to shut down the mall for an evening of revelry on a Saturday night. When she came to the end of Sue’s proposal – the part that said proceeds would go to sick and injured children in the hospital across the street – Candy looked up and said, “I think we can do this.”

After much red tape and convincing of owners and merchants, the inaugural Mall Ball was set for January 1996. Candy served as Site Chair, with Vikki Snider as Event Chair and Ed Morrison as Logistics and Beverage Chair. The Committee asked the Sacred Heart Foundation for a desk and a phone, where they would work tirelessly behind the scenes asking for sponsorships and in-kind donations.

There was never a question of, “Why the Children’s Hospital?” When the team toured the NICU prior to the event, there were 53 babies on ventilators or in incubators. Every request, every hour of time, every obstacle overcome has been “for the kids.”

The first year, the foursome had no idea how many people would show up. (They even ran out of cups!) But as they counted the proceeds in the back of a pick-up truck just before dawn, they couldn’t believe what they had accomplished. Twenty-five years later, the event has never lost money, raising more than $6 million for the Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart.

Today, the Mall Ball is a well-oiled machine, with a veritable army of volunteers (many from our local military) who help set up and tear down into the wee hours of the morning. After all the hard work, the founders are most proud of the ways they have been able to make life more comfortable for children and families in the hospital.

“I think we’ve made a mark,” Sue says. “The fact that we’ve been able to put over $6 million of equipment and love and time into that hospital means a great deal.”

Carol Carlan, President, Ascension Sacred Heart Foundation, has announced, that the four founding members, Candy Carlisle, Sue Martin, Ed Morrison, Vikki Snider, will be permanently named Emeritus Members of Mall Ball. These individuals have changed the lives of children and families across our region for decades.