The spirit of the holiday season tends to nudge us toward greater generosity. For Edina resident and local radio host Carly Zucker, philanthropy is a way of life. Being married to NHL player Jason Zucker has only elevated her ability to promote a give back lifestyle. This working mom of three has launched and led charitable campaigns and even hosts a radio program focused on people who are making a difference. How did all of this happen? We sat down with her to find out.
Zucker and her two siblings grew up in St. Cloud, Minn., the children of a cardiologist and a stay-at-home mom. Her college years were spent at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter where she studied communications and political science. A college internship led to her first job at a small TV station in Mankato. “I was so young, delivering the news,” says Zucker. “I loved it. I learned so much ... I was the one running the camera, researching and writing stories and setting up interviews. I anchored for a while.” She worked at the station for three years before the travel bug bit and Zucker decided to try a change of scenery. She moved to California to earn a product development degree through a year-long program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing.
But many Minnesotans can’t stay away. That was true of Zucker. She returned to work for the CW Twin Cities which led to an opportunity to work for the Timberwolves Entertainment Network. Then it was on to freelance work for Fox Sports North and then a gig with CBS Sports covering extreme sports. “I traveled a lot with snowmobile racing and learned a ton,” Zucker says. “I fell in love with the people and the sport,” that is … until she fell in love with Jason Zucker.
Nicole Marie Photography
Zucker says the story of meeting her husband isn’t necessarily the stuff of fairytales. “We met at a bar,” she says with a laugh. “I was at a bachelorette party and he was there.” Jason grew up playing roller hockey in Las Vegas, Nev. Zucker tells of still being a bit astounded that Jason’s parents sent him, at age 11, to California to play on a hockey team there. Midway through high school, Jason moved to Michigan to play hockey. He would later play in Denver before being signed by the Minnesota Wild, thus his date with destiny in a Minnesota bar.
“[Jason] grew up dirt racing,” Zucker says, “and he was floored that I covered snowmobile racing and he thought that was cool. We really connected on our love of extreme sports … married, three kids and a dog later, here we are living in Edina.” (Jason was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this year, but the family has decided to keep their permanent residence in Minnesota.)
Zucker recalls her father often telling her how preventable many heart disease cases could be if people would only learn to be active, eat well and not smoke. She became passionate about raising awareness and spearheaded Minnesota’s Red Dress Collection event in 2012, a runway show that pairs designers with local notables. The designers create custom red dresses to represent women’s heart health that are then showcased in a runway show to raise money for the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women.
“I created this event with a $600 budget the first year,” Zucker says. “There were 12 designers and maybe 100 people came. But, the next year, we had 22 designers and 500 people came.” She says organizing those events sparked her desire to do more charitable work. “I realized, having done that from the ground up, that anyone can do it,” she says enthusiastically.
When Zucker met and married Jason, everything changed regarding her ability to raise money for charity. His profession provided an elevated platform and garnered charitable goals more attention. “Before, I was nobody,” Zucker says, “Nobody knew my name and I was just asking for sponsorship and hoping [donors] believed in what I was doing. Now, all of a sudden, when you’re attached to the Minnesota Wild, or Jason Zucker, or whoever, people wanted to help. I understand that and that this gives us an opportunity to do even more.”
And then … the Zuckers met 8-year-old Tucker Helstrom when Jason was on a team visit to the Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis in 2015. Jason bonded with the boy, a sports fan and hockey player from Hopkins who was battling a rare form of bone cancer, a fight the child would sadly lose in 2016. “[That relationship] led us to wanting to give back to the hospital,” Zucker says. “I still talk to Dana [Tucker’s mom]. She does so much great work in the community, she is inspiring.”
Carly and Jason launched their Give 16 campaign to raise money for the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio at Masonic Children’s Hospital, a space that includes a state-of-the-art broadcast studio and a fully outfitted theater. “Sixteen was Jason’s jersey number,” says Zucker, “so we asked people to give in some form of 16. Kids would come up to me at [hockey] games and give me 16 dollars, saying they raised the money doing chores at home. People might donate $1.60, or a company might donate $16,000; people would find ways to incorporate Give 16 into their giving, and that first season, we raised one million dollars, much of it from small donations.” Zucker goes on to say that she strives to keep Tucker’s name at the forefront of Give 16. “It’s not just about giving money, but about trying to bring people together and help to keep Tucker’s memory alive.” Seeing first-hand the pain of a family losing a child, Zucker takes particular note of the priceless opportunity families at Masonic Children’s Hospital now have to record end-of-life videos right inside the new studio. It’s important to her that people know what Masonic Children’s Hospital does for the community.
Courtesy of Carly Zucker
Zucker’s work and relationships in the world of sports led her to meeting Chris Hawkey at KFAN sports radio in Minneapolis in 2014. She says, “He introduced me to radio and invited me to be a guest on [the station’s morning program] The Power Trip. She says, “I loved it way more than I ever loved TV. It’s so unscripted and there is more time to showcase your personality. It’s like spending time with friends in a fun atmosphere.” KFAN seems to love her too. The station offered Zucker her own weekly program in 2017, making her the first female to lead a show for the station in 10 years and she says the Power Trip guys are her biggest champions.
Zucker’s show on KFAN is called Overtime and it’s focused on philanthropy. “We talk about what people are doing in the community to make it a better place,” says Zucker. She asks, “What sports figures are doing, coaches, players, whatever you are in the industry … what is your relationship to sport and how does that drive your wanting to give back, using your platform?” She notes that in the beginning she thought professional athletes would be the best “gets” but has shifted to “what are everyday people doing?”
I guess you could say it’s come full circle for Zucker, realizing “you don’t need a huge platform to make a difference.” Especially in the age of COVID-19, when many typical fundraisers have been shelved in favor of virtual events. “People will need to get creative,” Zucker says. But it’s important to note that “your dollar matters and makes a difference.” She was recently involved with a virtual fundraiser with Taste Fore the Tour held during the 3M Open. She brought her social media savvy to its first online event when its previously scheduled food experience had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. In this environment, she adds, “People who are worried about putting food on their own tables need not feel guilty about not buying a $250 ticket to a [charitable event] when small donations can add up to make a big difference.”
Zucker says that in her 20s, she had a plan for her life. But in her 30s, she’s being more forgiving and trying to take life as it comes. “I’m thankful to be in Minnesota and in Edina,” she says. “We are really fortunate, and I don’t take that lightly.” She also says she’ll remain in radio “as long as they’ll have me, and we’ll keep doing Give 16. We raised enough to build the space, now we want to create more programming for kids. It’s such a fun way to deliver [health] information to kids and families, but it’s also fun to do bingo and trivia. We have a ton of fun with it.”