More than 20 years ago Ruth Harrison organized the first Women's Forum at the ShopRite Ladies Pro Golf Association Classic at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point.

As executive director of the tournament, she convinced Infiniti to sponsor the event because they were marketing a car to women at the time, Harrison said. Its first speaker in 1994 was journalist Linda Ellerbee, and more than 250 women attended.

"We held it in a tent at Greate Bay," said Harrison who was also executive director of the LPGA tournament at the time. Her husband, Larry, served as general chairman.

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The first year forum proceeds went to support breast cancer research, but the group later focused on funding the First Tee DRIVE Program, as well as other greater Atlantic City charities. The event typically raises about $80,000 per year, for a total of more than $1.5 million over two decades.

Two years ago Harrison turned over the reigns of the Women's Forum to her daughter, Brett Harrison Matik, of Linwood, president of the family business, Harrison Beverage. Matik is co-chairing with Mandanna Salartash, of Margate, and a committee of 18 women, still including Harrison.

"I'll be on my computer non-stop working on sponsorships," said Harrison, who is still at her home in Florida, but is packing up to move back to Margate for the summer. She credits the committee with making the event a success.

"Those women really work hard," she said.

"Those women" and a few men, include committee members Gwendolyn Bair, Inez Barberio, Ava Cocchi, Christine D'Alessandro, Ilene Daniels, Nicola DeLorio, Julie Fazio, Jamie Hannigan, Gary Hill, Chase Hutt, Jean Jacobson, Lisa Johnson, Fran Loftus, Lisa Pilli, Vicki Rich, Tracy Santoro, and Michele Zelig.

After the LPGA left the area, the Women's Forum continued on its own, moving to casinos as attendance required larger venues. This year's event, featuring speaker Dolvett Quince, a trainer on the TV show "The Biggest Loser" will be held May 13 at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.

"This is an event people ask about," said Matik. "They want to know when it is and who the speaker will be. Some sponsors have been with us almost the entire 21 years."

Major sponsors include Walmart, Horizon, Pepsi, Coke, Wells Fargo, Janney Montgomery Scott, AtlantiCare and Harrison Beverage.

Matik said it can be a challenge to find a dynamic speaker within their budget, but over the years have been lucky with Dr. Mehmet Oz, Deepak Chopra, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers, Lee Anne Tuohy, Star Jones and Jane Pauley.

"It's not an easy decision," Matik said. "We try to find someone we think will resonate, and bring in some new people, but also someone within our price point."

Matik said the silent auction, which starts at 10 a.m. is almost as big a draw as the speaker.

"We have trips, designer handbags, jewelry, and tickets to shows and sporting events," she said.

Matik said she started by serving on the committee and got more and more involved each year.

"And one day Mom said she was retiring, and I inherited it," Matik said. "But she's still a part of it. It's hard to let go."

Contact Diane D'Amico:


If You Go

The Women's Forum will be held May 13 at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City. Reception and silent auction start at 10 a.m. Lunch is at 11:45 a.m. Guest speaker is trainer Dolvett Quince from "The Biggest Loser." Tickets are $125. Call 609 645-7100 ext. 125.

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