'Real Housewives' star from Lake Bluff to chair fashion show benefit

After appearing in the original season of Bravo's “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” Lake Bluff resident Kimberly Bryant finds herself recognized wherever she goes.

“Especially when I'm with my family,” the suburban homemaker says. “We're all surprised by how much we've lost our anonymity.”

Still, on Sunday, she is willing to put her fame to good use, when she headlines the 16th annual Dream a Little Dream Fashion Show, to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

The event takes place at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont and already has sold out, drawing more than 1,300 guests. Allison Rosati, co-anchor of NBC 5 Chicago, will serve as emcee.

“Kimberly is not what you think, when you think of a celebrity from reality TV,” says Cathy Breit, of Northbrook, one of the founders of the fashion show. “She's sharp and articulate and passionate about helping other people.”

Bryant attended the fashion show last year with a friend and immediately drew fans in attendance, especially younger ones, to seek her autograph.

“We figured she could bring in a younger crowd and help make them aware of St. Jude's,” adds Breit, whose father, Joseph Shaker, was one of the original businessmen to start St. Jude's with actor Danny Thomas. “What we didn't know was how involved she would be, as our honorary chair. She's got such fun, creative fundraising ideas.”

The other reason Bryant was such a good fit is that she is a cancer survivor. As a native of Newport Beach, Calif., she says she grew up on the beach and, as a result, has had five episodes with malignant melanoma.

One of those was part of the storyline in her “Real Housewives” season, which aired in 2006.

“For me, the only thing worse than having cancer would be if one of my children were to have cancer,” Bryant says. “That's why I've become such a huge supporter of St. Jude's and all the work they do in treating childhood cancer.”

Bryant has visited St. Jude's in Memphis and has come away inspired after seeing the patients and their families who are being treated.

“(St. Jude's) has achieved so very much in terms of cancer research,” Bryant says, “probably more than any other organization.”

She points out one example: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. In 1962 when St. Jude's opened, the survival rate was 4 percent for that particular cancer. Today, 94 percent survive, thanks to research and treatment protocols developed at St. Jude's.

Overall, Bryant adds, survival rates for childhood cancers are up to 80 percent, from less than 20 percent in 1962.

But when Bryant takes the podium to address the crowd, don't look for her to talk strictly about cancer. Guests will be looking for her to dish out some inside scoop on the popular show.

“The show has morphed into this huge phenomenon that's much more dramatic, with a lot of backbiting and nastiness,” Bryant says. “When I was on it, we sort of made it up as we went along. It was part documentary and part soap opera, but it was all tongue-in-cheek.

“I was very naive when I went into it,” she adds, “but I have to admit, I had a blast.”

Her husband's business career took them back to his native Midwest, and Bryant describes her Lake Bluff community as a much more solid place to raise a family.

The couple sent their oldest daughter off to college this year, while their son is in sixth grade. She wouldn't rule out a return to television, she says, but for now her family comes first.

“If I can lend a hand in helping fight children's cancer and promoting awareness,” Bryant says, “I'm thrilled to do it.”

Sunday’s 16th annual Dream a Little Dream Fashion Show, which benefits St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, has already sold out.

If you go

<p>What:16th Annual Dream a Little Dream Luncheon and Fashion Show

Benefiting St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital</p>

<p>When: 10:30 a.m. doors open for raffle/Marlo Thomas book signing; 11 a.m. Champagne reception; noon luncheon; 2 p.m. fashion show Sunday, Nov. 7</p>

<p>Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont</p>

<p>Tickets: Sold out</p>