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Wisconsin Branch Of Gilda’s Club Decides Not To Change Name After All

Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner, seen in 1980 in New York. (Credit: -/AFP/Getty Images)

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MADISON, Wis. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Madison, Wis., chapter of the Gilda’s Club cancer support organization has decided not to change its name after all.

In November, the original Gilda’s Club in New York City was one of many organizations to criticize the decision by the Madison Gilda’s Club to change its name to Cancer Support Community effective in January.

The branch made the decision on the grounds that current college students were born after Radner’s death in 1989, and thus, younger people dealing with a cancer diagnosis might be confused by the unfamiliar name, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

But the board at the Madison branch voted last week to keep the name after the avalanche of criticism.

“It really struck a chord with folks and all of us agreed we want people to come to Gilda’s and get the help that they need,” said Wayne Harris, chairman of the board for the Madison chapter. “If this is what it takes to make that happen, we’re all as a group happy to make it happen.”

The intention of changing to a broader name was honorable, Harris said. “In retrospect, we probably should have thought that through or understood it more,” he said.

Anger over the name change, which was supposed to take effect this month, came from members of the local Gilda’s Club chapter, fans of Radner who saw it as a slight to a woman who confronted cancer with dignity and humor, leaders of other clubs who reaffirmed their commitment to keeping the name, as well as Radner’s husband, actor Gene Wilder.

Speaking to CBS New York in November, Gilda’s Club New York City chief executive officer Lily Safani questioned the claim that Gilda’s Club name might cause confusion among those unfamiliar with Radner.

“I have never had a problem with people not knowing,” Safani said in November. “It’s not an issue of whether they know Gilda Radner or not. It’s more an issue of whether they know what we do.”

Safani said people of all ages know full well that Gilda’s Club is a network that provides support that treats people of all ages with cancer, as young as the age of 4, and as old “as anyone can live.”

“Gilda’s Club” is a brand name, and ultimately, it is most important that people know the brand, Safani said in November. She said whether people know the brand does not depend on whether they know who Radner was.

“People don’t live forever, and I don’t understand why people don’t question all the other brands that are named after people who have died,” she said. “A lot of people don’t remember certain people, but they know a company.”

Safani pointed out that there are other organizations that use names of deceased people who may be unfamiliar to the average person – far more unfamiliar, in fact, than Radner.

“Look at Susan G. Komen,” Safani said. “She’s not alive, but people know what the organization does.”

Gilda Radner was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, from 1975 until 1980. She became known for characters such as the crass “Weekend Update” commentator Roseanne Roseannadanna, and a Barbara Walters parody named Baba Wawa.

Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986, and died three years later.

The original New York flagship Gilda’s Club was founded after shortly Radner’s death, by her husband, Gene Wilder, and her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull. Its mission is to provide emotional and social support to cancer patients.

The New York branch opened its signature red door in 1995, at 195 W. Houston St. in the Village.

What do you think of the decision to go back on the name change? Leave your comments below…

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)