Evan Lysacek has been involved with helping others through benefit shows and appearances. But his latest charitable effort was a little more personal to Lysacek." />

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Lysacek and friends host "An Evening of Hope"

Reigning U.S. champ gathers friends to raise cash for the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund

Evan Lysacek and Tanith Belbin greet fans after the show.
Evan Lysacek and Tanith Belbin greet fans after the show. (Paul LaTour)

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By Paul LaTour, special to icenetwork.com
(09/29/2008) - For years Evan Lysacek has been involved with helping others through benefit shows and appearances. But his latest charitable effort was a little more personal to Lysacek.

That's because An Evening of Hope was a show he co-organized as a benefit for the Stephanie Joseph Memorial Fund, along with Make-a-Wish Foundation of Illinois. Lysacek grew up with Joseph in their hometown of Naperville, Ill. Joseph, an accomplished youth figure skater, died of a rare form of cancer in February.

"We actually started skating on our roller blades on my driveway before we were even good at skating on the ice," Lysacek said. "We'd just goof around all the time. She was the type of person that loved to give back to the community. We wanted to continue that passion of hers through this memorial fund."

The fund's board of directors -- which includes Lysacek's mother, Tanya -- came up with An Evening of Hope, which drew more than 2,000 people Saturday night to the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Ill., just up the road from Naperville.

It brought together some of the world's top skaters, as well as some talented local skaters for the two-hour-plus show. Among the headlining stars were Kimmie Meissner, Jeffrey Buttle, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

The cast also included Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Jennifer Robinson, Ryan Bradley and Dan Hollander. Susie Wynne, who also knew Joseph, served as the evening's emcee.

"When I wrote them a letter and told them what this organization meant to me, and what the show is benefiting, these are the people who were the most excited about it," Lysacek said, adding the skaters donated their time. "We had a real natural decision process for who the cast would be."

The timing couldn't have been better for Buttle, the 2008 men's world champion who retired from competitive skating just days before talking to Lysacek while the two were training together in California.

"I knew as soon as I had the time, I wanted to be here and do this for him," Buttle said. "I know it's really dear to his heart. He told me the story about [Stephanie] and how important she was to him. When you hear a story like that, it's important to be there for your friends."

Added Meissner: "We're all glad to do something that's for a good cause and to remember someone. And also Evan's a great friend of all of ours."

One of the more amazing elements of the event was how many of the skaters were able to make it despite their preparations for the upcoming competitive season. It was a testament to Joseph's influence and Lysacek's relationships within the skating community.

"It just demonstrates how much she did impact his life that he's willing to go to such great lengths to make this evening so special in her memory," said Belbin, who is dating Lysacek. "It's not very often that people come into your life that really changes you. She definitely had that impact on him."

The night started with a VIP gathering where the skaters mingled with guests in the upper suites area of the arena. The show began with Lysacek, Wynne and Katherine Hill -- another of Joseph's friends since childhood -- performing a dialogue explaining what Stephanie meant to them while pictures of Joseph flashed on a video screen.

It ended with an autograph session that was still going strong nearly an hour after the show was over.

"I'm proud of all these skaters because they really put their heart and soul into it," Lysacek said. "They believed in the cause. That's what I'm the most passionate about. So for that feeling to rub off on them was really cool to me."