Central Emergency Services photographer Dave LaForest sizes up his wife Pam's new do after she had seven year's worth of hair shaved off during the St. Baldrick's Day fundraising event at the Soldotna Sports Center on Saturday night. The event collected money for children's cancer research. LaForest donated her hair to an organization that makes wigs for cancer victims.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Firefighters, troopers and policeman routinely work to save lives, protect their communities and help in any way they can.
Saturday night, more than 50 lost their hair and raised well over $12,000 in a different kind of life-saving effort.
The event was the inaugural St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, held in conjunction with the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s 16th annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Amid the day’s parade, traditional corn beef and cabbage dinner, kids’ events in the Soldotna Sports Center and fireworks, the local Fraternal Order of Leatherheads (FOOLS) organized and staged the St. Baldrick’s event.
If the event had raised just $1, Wayne Johnson said he still would have been there.
“Oh, yeah, I would have shaved my head,” Johnson said. “I actually had a couple of guys I used to work with come up to me in November in Fred Meyer and asked me if I was interested, and here I am.”
And he was there having raised a healthy $2,600, including $50 for his mustache. The first $2,550 he raised was through donations from friends and family.
“I think it’s great. I hope it’ll be bigger next year,” Johnson said.
Chances are that it will.
The mission of St. Baldrick’s Foundation is to raise awareness and funds to cure kids’ cancer by supporting cancer research and fellowships, according to its Web site. Event organizer Brian Heath, a firefighter/paramedic with Central Emergency Services, said his and others’ involvement with FOOLS led to Saturday night’s event.
“In the last couple of years, the FOOLS organization has gotten involved with the St. Baldrick’s organization and promoted that,” Heath said. “It’s a fun brotherhood thing we do and also to raise money for such a good cause.
“Some of the people from Fairbanks, their chapter has done this for several years. This year being the first year we’ve had a FOOLS chapter on the Peninsula, we decided to go ahead and do that too.”
FOOLS is an organization that was started in 1995 by a group of Central Florida firemen that had a passion for not only the camaraderie and brotherhood of firefighters, but also the tradition of service. The organization is now over 7,000 strong all over the world.
Leatherhead is a term used for a firefighter who uses a leather helmet for protection from the hazards faced every day on the job.
“There’s several kids in this community who have been affected with cancer at a very young age, some of the kids in my kids’ school in Kenai,” Heath said. “One little boy has gotten back from cancer treatment, and one little girl is in cancer treatment in Seattle. One of things we’re doing with the split the pot (raffle), we’re trying to actually make some money stay in this area and go to that family.”
Before the first hair was cut, the numbers indicated more than $12,000 was already raised. With on-the-spot bidding for co-workers hair, plus some others who walked in and asked for donations and gave up their hair, the total was expected to climb near or above $15,000.
“They said for your first year, count on 10 people and start out with $1,000,” Heath said. “So we’ve exceeded that.”
One of those walking in was distinguishable by his dreadlocks. In less than an hour, he was just another shaven head in the crowd.
“I actually saw it in the paper this morning, so I wasn’t able to raise much money,” said Ben Stevens, no relation to the former Alaskan politician. “I regret that because I was thinking with the leverage, I’d have been able to raise a lot of money out on my route. I’m a traveling salesman. So I figured I’d come down and show my support. We were able to raise $240 on the spur of the moment, but we could have done so much more.”
Stevens had the dreads for more than four years. Before that, his hair was past his shoulder blades.
“I think compassion is the key,” Stevens said. “It’s for kids, and I don’t know how to put it into words. It (hair) grows back. If you can get somebody to donate money ... I just wish I could have done more.”
As for folks on his route this week, “They’re not going to recognize me,” he said. “I can tell them to come down here next year.”
Aaron Renken, a patrol officer for the city of Soldotna, was the first on stage. He too agreed that even if only $1 had been raised it would have been worth the effort.
“I and three other officers are getting our hair cut for St. Baldrick’s,” Renken said. “I think there are a couple of the officers are directly or indirectly related, or are friends of somebody, that has been involved with leukemia or has leukemia or is a survivor of leukemia. We figured it would be a good way to support, and a good thing to bond the department. The troopers are doing the same thing, and the fire people. It just seemed like a good fun thing to do.”
Renken said the tugs are stronger when it’s children who are affected.
“It’s a harder realm to deal with, and to have people in sickness and leukemia, it makes it harder and you want to go overboard to help out and do whatever you can to help the children of the community, plus research,” Renken said.
Glenn Godfrey, a sergeant for the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement Troopers, was half of a father-son tandem that raised about $500.
“It was just something my boss was going to do and brought it up, I read about it,” Godfrey said. “I thought it was neat, I needed a haircut, I don’t have much hair to go anyway, and it was for a good cause. I told my family about it, and nobody else wanted to do it. My one son said no, then he went downstairs and was playing the piano, and he came back up and he said ‘You know what, I think I need to do this Dad.’ So he and I decided to do it together.”
Son, Ben, was able to raise over $200 by himself through a Web site and with the help of family and even some of his dad’s co-workers.
Asked what changed his mind, Ben simply responded, “Because God told me to.”
He wasn’t the only child under the age of 10 leaving with a shaven head. There were a handful, plus a couple of ladies, and several young girls under the age of 10 had long hair cut for Locks of Love.
For many it was simply fun, but for others, it was about helping a cause that touches close to home. Count Johnson among that group, too.
“I actually have a gentleman, Jared Baumgartner. His daughter, Brooke, got diagnosed with cancer back in November. She’s down in Seattle. She’s 4 and a half years old,” he said.
Cancer knows no boundaries. And on this night, neither did some very special fundraisers.
Alan Wooten is a freelance writer who lives in Nikiski.
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