‘Ronda Strong’: Legacy of Dowagiac community member honored with drum-a-thon fundraiser

Published 3:07 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — Community members filled the gym at Dowagiac Union High School Saturday morning – rhythm sticks in hand – to honor the life and legacy of Ronda Sullivan. 

The Ronda Lucas-Sullivan Legacy Foundation hosted its inaugural Drum-a-thon fundraiser Saturday and raised $2,296. 

The event featured cardio drumming – a cardio exercise that involves hitting an exercise ball in rhythm with fast-faced music – under the direction of Tonya Brooks as well as a bake sale and raffle. Proceeds from the event will go toward the creation of a scholarship for Dowagiac seniors.

The Ronda Lucas-Sullivan Legacy Foundation was founded last year to empower Dowagiac youth through the provision of financial assistance, mentorship and community support as a tribute to Ronda Sullivan, a life-long Dowagiac resident and prominent community member who passed away last year following an eight-year battle with gastric cancer.  

Sullivan was heavily involved in community and district activities. A former Parent Teacher Organization president in the district, Sullivan supervised several area McDonald’s locations for JNKO Management Inc. and in 2021 was chosen to be the DUS Board of Education president after years of serving on the board. 

Dozens of people – friends, family and community members who felt Sullivan’s impact over the years – turned out for the event, including Dowagiac graduate and current National Football League player Caleb Murphy.

“Miss Ronda was one of my favorite people on this Earth,” Murphy said. “To be able to celebrate her and things that she liked to do is awesome because she supported everybody and what they like to do. So to be able to do something like this for Miss Ronda and to dedicate the day to her is really awesome.”

Sullivan’s son, DeYonte Sullivan, founded the nonprofit as a way to continue his mother’s legacy by making a positive impact on the community. 

According to DeYonte, Sullivan was a regular at cardio drumming classes. Community members hosted a drum-a-thon four years ago to raise funds for her cancer treatments. DeYonte said the event was a fun way for people to come together and support a great cause in honor of his mother. 

“I love it,” he said. “She was somebody who put a lot into the community so to see that love returned is great to see. It’s nice to see that what she did mattered to people.”

Sullivan’s twin sister, Danielle Lucas, is a financial aid systems analyst at Southwestern Michigan College and serves on the Dowagiac City Council. Lucas, who also sits on the foundation board, was happy with the turnout.

“You’re always nervous about how it’s going to turn out but people started coming in and drumming with all of the exciting music and movement. It’s been a good turnout.”

The event was the foundation’s second fundraiser, with more events planned for the future. For more information, follow the “Ronda L. Sullivan Legacy Foundation” page on Facebook.