Party with a purpose is the Katz(man)’s meow


When Diane Katzman heard about the controversial report late last year that women don’t need breast screenings until they reach age 50, it got her thinking. “If I had waited until I was 50, I may not even be here,” explained Katzman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47.

The report, issued by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, came out in November. That was right around the time Katzman began pondering an upcoming milestone in her life, turning the big 5-0.


“I really wanted to do something meaningful for my 50th birthday,” said Katzman, who has a head full of the best red ringlets this side of the Mississippi and an effervescent personality that draws people to her.

She lives in Ladue with her husband, David, and the couple’s three daughters, the eldest of whom attends Brown University, where her parents, both graduates of the university, met years ago. Since that time, Katzman has built a multi-million dollar business called Diane Katzman Design. It features her collectible jewelry and accessory lines, which sell at dozens of stores and galleries nationwide.

“The report recommending women wait until 50 to have mammograms was weighing on me,” Katzman said. “I was stressed out so I put on music by my favorite singer, Diane Birch. I started to feel great and relaxed and said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could feel this way after being stressed out or upset?’ And that’s when it hit me.”

She Googled Diane Birch and got the name of her manager. Katzman called and asked if Birch would consider doing a benefit concert to raise money for mammograms for women who couldn’t afford them. The next day Katzman had a contract in hand, with Birch, 26, an up-and-coming singer- songwriter currently on tour with Nick Jonas, donating her performance.

On Sunday, the actual date of Katzman’s 50th birthday, more than 250 family and friends turned out at the Touhill Performing Arts Center to celebrate her “Birch Day Party.” On pink invitations Katzman had written to each guest: “I’ve never asked you for a birthday gift, but I am asking you for this . . . underwrite a mammogram that could save someone’s life.”

Katzman explained that she is working with both the Susan G. Komen and Missouri Baptist Medical Center foundations, which identified Dent County in south-central Missouri as a place where women desperately need the gift of breast health. Approximately 13 percent of families in Dent County live on incomes below poverty level.

Rather than ask guests to contribute money to a general fund, Katzman suggested they buy a mammogram screening at $134.81 or a diagnostic screening at $156.44 or a breast ultrasound at $85.37 or a breast biopsy at $1,300 for these women who otherwise could not afford them. And as it turned out her guests all came through, surpassing even hope-a-holic Katzman’s expectations.

“This is one of the most magnificent events I’ve ever worked on,” said Debbie Victor, president of the Missouri Baptist Medical Center Foundation. “We have 250 people coming in honor of Diane. The mitzvah they are doing for other women as well as honoring their good friend Diane is overwhelming.”

The Birch Day Party was not the first time Katzman raised money for breast cancer, or for that matter, a charity of her choice. In 2008, she created a collection of men’s ties in more than 70 different designs, all in a pink theme, that were sold in 1,033 stores nationwide to benefit breast cancer detection, treatment and research. Each store donated a minimum of 5 percent from the sales and more than $300,000 went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation fight against breast cancer. Katzman also has designed special jewelry pieces to raise money for Goodwill; Make-A-Wish Foundation; Teach for America, Crohn’s Disease, Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Alzheimer’s Association; the American Heart Association and Hadassah.

Before introducing Diane Birch and her band Sunday night, Katzman beamed as she told friends and family assembled in the Touhill’s intimate Des Lee Auditorium that they raised $41,000 to provide Dent County women with 41 mammograms, 23 diagnostic screenings, three ultrasounds and five biopsies, plus an additional $25,000 in unrestricted funds to be used for any of these services where there’s an immediate need. She also thanked friends for underwriting the various costs of the evening, including food, alcohol and concert production.

Katzman’s three daughters, seated in the front row, beamed back at their mother, proud but not the least bit surprised by her actions. “This party is very typical of her,” said 18-year-old Rebecca Katzman.

“She thinks up the best ideas and they’re always about helping people,” added 16-year-old Julia Katzman.

“Some mothers try to hide their age but my mom was like, ‘Hey, I’m 50. I want to shout it.’ I think she’s really happy,” 19-year-old Caroline noted, with her sisters nodding in agreement.

Shortly after Birch’s rousing 45-minute performance, which had many in the audience on their feet dancing, the singer led guests in the “Happy Birthday” song as they toasted Katzman with champagne and cupcakes. Then each guest left with a goodie bag containing a Diane Birch CD and Katzman-designed glass heart pendant.

“Things happen for a reason,” Katzman told me when we chatted before the party. “I think me having cancer was God’s way of telling me I needed to be more intimate in what I do for other people. There is no better way to do that than to celebrate and help people at the same time. So I think having cancer was a good thing for me.”

Also good; in fact, very, very good, was the birthday present that came a couple of days before Sunday’s celebration. At her two-year breast check-up, Katzman received a clean bill of health.