The first-ever Laugh Fest in the country opens in Grand Rapids March 10 with non-stop funny entertainment happening in 32 locations until March 20. LaughFest features humor to raise money for the serious cause of supporting cancer patients and their families. Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids is celebrating its tenth anniversary as one of the most active cancer-support facilities in the country. Leann Arkema, President of Gilda’s Club, credits Peter M. Wege’s vision and generosity for getting the Grand Rapids Gilda’s started in 2001.

LaughFest has been listed on USA Today’s web site as a national happening naming Kevin Hart and Chondra Pierce as two of the popular comedians bringing their stand-up acts to Grand Rapids.

At the end of February, LaughFest’s organizers announced they are going for the Guinness Book of Records by setting a new high for rubber-chicken tossing. Since the existing record is 265 chicken throwers in Boston last April, Leann Arkema fully expects Gilda’s active supporters to at least double that number March 10, the opening night of the festival. The rubber chickens will be handed out for throwing across Rosa Parks Circle in front of the Grand Rapids Art Museum at 7:30 p.m. The traveling comedy group LaughScat will entertain diners at ten downtown eateries following the throw.

March 19 LaughFest winds down with a free dance party starting at 9 p.m. in the Amway Grand Plaza’s Ambassador Ballroom with live music by the local band Mid-Life Crisis. At 3 p.m. March 20, all visitors to Rosa Parks Circle who come to say goodbye to the first – but surely not the last – LaughFest will be given a commemorative yellow smiley face like the ones on the T-shirts in the photos.

Pictured above is Mary Nelson, left, and Carroll Velie who are co-chairing LaughFest that is bringing popular comedians – including Bill Cosby and Betty White – to town for the 10-day event. Nelson, a Wege Foundation Trustee, and Velie, a former Gilda’s Club board member, wear T-shirts sporting the LaughFest’s smile logo.
Mary Nelson and Ellen Satterlee, CEO of The Wege Foundation are shown at the LaughFest kickoff in January.