For several years, Bryan Jennings’ friends in Northern Illinois had been coming to them for support of their St. Baldrick fundraisers.
While Jennings was happy to support those events held in the northern part of the state to raise funds for the fight against pediatric cancer, he thought it was time to hold such an event in this area.
Jennings gained the support of his fellow firefighters on the St. Elmo Fire Department, then he invited the 22 departments that are a part of MABAS 54 (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) to also get involved.
The initial goal for the St. Elmo fundraiser on Sunday was $1,000, but Jennings hoped to collect $2,500 through pledges donated by individuals who agreed to have their heads shaved, as well as donations accepted for a ham and beans dinner.
On Monday, Jennings had an ear-to-ear grin as he announced that Sunday’s St. Baldrick’s fundraiser in St. Elmo had raised close to $15,000, with the total still growing.
Austin Adams of Shumway had the same type of grin early Sunday afternoon, as representatives from area fire departments lined up to give him one of their T-shirts. A short time later, Austin had the opportunity to help shave the first head, that of John McWhorter of the St. Elmo Fire Department.
Austin, a 9-year-old who is currently being treated at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, was the honored child at Sundays St. Baldricks event in St. Elmo.
When he saw a photo of himself presenting some of the fire department T-shirts, Jennings pointed to a beaming Austin and said, Thats the reason we did this, that right there.
After hearing from his Northern Illinois friends about St. Baldricks, Jennings asked himself, Why cant we do it here? I like the idea of doing something like this, he said. It was just a matter of finding out what it would take to get it done.
Cancer is something that has touched everybodys life, whether it be a parent, another relative or another friend, so I felt like it would be good to raise some money to help kids with cancer, Jennings said.
He was surprised at how quickly area residents joined the project.
Once the ball got rolling, with the phone calls and e-mails, I couldnt keep up, he said. Momentum was building every day.
On Friday alone, there was about $1,400 in pledges posted, Jennings said.
I had high hopes for how this would turn out, but you never know until the day of the event how something will turn out. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement, he said.
Jane Halleman was one of three women who had their heads shaved and raised pledges for St. Baldricks. Its people like her who made the fundraising effort so fruitful, Jennings said.
Shes what made this take off, to a large extent, he said. Once people saw what she was doing, they also wanted to get involved.
Halleman said she learned about the fundraiser when she took her 5-year-old son, Zane, to the shop of Larry Stolte for a haircut. Stolte, also a member of the St. Elmo Fire Department, was among the barbers working on Sunday.
I just wanted to do whatever I could to help, Halleman said. I thought it seemed like a good cause, and I wanted to help the fire department, because I know so many of those guys.
Halleman, who was joined in the barbers chair on Sunday by Zane and her husband, Larry, said the event piqued her curiosity. Id always wanted to see what I would look like bald, and this was a good time to find out.
She does admit, however, that she had a few second thoughts. I was perfectly fine until right before (the head shaving), when I saw just how many people were there.
But, she said, I have no regrets about doing it none at all.
Jennings said its impossible to list everyone who played a role in the success of the fundraising event.
The list of people who participated is just endless, he said. If we tried to list everyone, we know that we would leave someone out.
This was just so fantastic, Jennings said. Our department and our town should puff out their chests a little bit. They should be so proud of what they accomplished.