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Concert For Life to say goodbye to Gurnee

A spring ritual for many Gurnee families, the 14th annual Concert For Life fundraiser will be the last.

Concert for Life raised more than $390,000 for the American Cancer Society since the first show in 2001.

The event has grew from an effort by a small group of teens including Gurnee-raised musician Matt Wessel to help their friend to an annual defining event for the Gurnee community.

During her junior year at Warren Township High School, Kate Pedersen was diagnosed with cancer. Pedersen was a member of Future Business Leaders of America, and her fellow classmates and friends wanted to do something to help. They decided to have a concert at St. Paul the Apostle in Gurnee to raise money for her.

Chris Mason, FBLA advisor, said it was a mutual decision between Matt Wessel and the Future Business Leaders of America Chapter to end the CFL legacy in 2014. They always agreed that CFL wouldn’t go on without Wessel, she said.

“It’s been a good run since we started this,” Mason said. “Next year, some of our FBLA students wouldn’t even have been born when we started it. It’s been a great success, and we hope we can do another event to benefit the American Cancer Society.”

Mason said she’s not sure what event could replace Concert For Life. “It will be hard to have one of such magnitude,” she said. Mason said it will be an emotional event for her, although she usually stays busy. “It will be sentimental for all of us,” she said.

Wessel, who lives in Milwaukee, Wis., said it’s a bittersweet feeling. “My hope is to continue doing fundraisers and possibly start a similar event up here [in Wisconsin],” he said. “I loved every minute of every show, and this is the right year to end it for me.”

This year’s concert will differ from past years because it will be held on a Friday instead of a Sunday, Mason said. “This time we’re focusing more on the music, with a shorter intermission,” she said.

Wessel said the concert is always an emotional experience but knowing it’s his last time performing Concert For Life will bring back 13 years of memories. He plans to talk about those memories between songs. “The Gurnee community has been through a lot and has changed since we started it,” he said.

The musician said the playlist wrote itself as he considered the songs that he did most often over the years. “This CFL warrants moments of appreciation, reflection and recognition,” he said. Wessel said he’s heard from former FBLA members around the country who plan to come back to Gurnee for the event.

Mason said a lot of people keep asking her why this year will be the last, but most agree that nothing lasts forever.

Wessel said, “We accomplished a lot and we’re ending it while it still means something. It doesn’t take much to make a difference and change the lives of others.”

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