Lanesville Jaycees’ finest hour
A very successful community-wide fund-raiser one year ago for a young Lanesville man battling terminal cancer has put the Lanesville Jaycees’ chapter in the national spotlight.
Friday night, the Jaycees were presented with the coveted Dr. Jerry Bruce Award, for the most outstanding project in the nation.
‘This is so overwhelming,’ said Suzie Tomes, who was chapter president last year when the Jaycees decided to hold a community-wide campaign to help Dan Wigginton, a 23-year-old cancer patient who was unable to work and had a small child.
‘We accept on behalf of Dan and Pam (Voelker) and all the women who helped and everyone in the community. We just wanted to make a difference,’ Tomes said Friday night. ‘We just wanted to help.’
The Lanesville club, in existence for 30 years, made a difference and helped by responding to a plea from Vickie Sizemore, Suzie Tomes’s aunt, to help raise money for Wigginton. His mother, Pam Voelker, was also present Friday night for the award presentation at the Lanesville Jaycees’ clubhouse by 2003 Indiana Jaycee President Alice Weber of Fort Branch.
The Lanesville Jaycees agreed to help Wigginton with his mounting medical expenses and doctor bills because their chapter goals include personal development and community service, and they have expertise in fund-raising and public relations, said Dr. Angie Orwick, a New Albany dentist and a chapter member since 1993. The Jaycees, about 34 members strong, knew they could help. They set a goal of $5,000.
Tomes, Voelker, Sizemore, Aprile Sapp, Leigh Ann Campbell, Mary Donahue and others started assembling more than 100 items for a silent auction. Letters, flyers and media releases went out.
On the night of the fund-raising dinner, silent auction and dance last March, the Jaycees already had $10,000 in the bank. The Jaycees Clubhouse at Jaycee Park was packed, ‘wall-to-wall people,’ said Kathy Daily. The crowd inside was so big, estimated at more than 600 in a town of 605, that people outside had little hope of getting inside.
Pam Voelker remembers the event vividly. She was told that at least 1,000 people were there at one time or another. ‘There were people everywhere,’ she said. ‘You couldn’t move. I only saw Dan a couple of times that night because it was so crowded. People wanted to see him and say something to him. You couldn’t finish a conversation with one person before two or three others wanted to talk to you. For one night, we were all together, wishing him luck.’
The silent auction alone raised $10,000. Dan’s mother outbid several others for the top item, a Keller Manufacturing Co. entertainment center, for $800. ‘I wasn’t going to let that get away,’ she said.
After the event, the Jaycees had raised $26,043.
The Wigginton project was such an astonishing success that the chapter officers decided later to enter it in the annual state Jaycee competition for community service projects. They enlisted the help of Steven Uhde, a Jaycee from Chandler, Ind., to prepare the official ‘book’ which describes the history of the project in detail. Uhde has judged national Jaycee contests for six years and chaired the Bruce Award judging in 2000.
The Wigginton project was first entered in the national contest in the division for community service projects against other chapters in the smallest communities. Lanesville’s project won. ‘For most people, that would be a feat in itself,’ said Uhde.
Representing Indiana, the project was entered in the national contest for community service projects from all over the country ‘ competing against chapters in cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach, Omaha, Hartford, Conn., Greensboro, N.C.
Lanesville won again.
Then it was entered ‘ as a long shot ‘ in the contest for all five division winners. The prize is the Dr. Jerry Bruce award, named for an outstanding Jaycee from Idaho who was killed in an auto accident in 1962.
Uhde said the Bruce Award judging is excruciating. The deliberations are meticulous and can go on for 12 hours. One reason is because the judging must be unanimous, and judges get quite picky after several days of comparing highly successful projects.
Uhde said, during a break in the deliberations, one of the judges confided to him that it looked good for Lanesville, even though it was going up against a project from Houston, Texas, that involved 25,000 people. ‘That’s what made it all the more remarkable because they competed with communities that are much larger with greater resources,’ Uhde told the hushed crowd Friday night in Lanesville.
Uhde said he scolded the excited judge for letting the cat out of the bag: ‘You aren’t supposed to tell me that.’
The judge responded, ‘I had to tell someone!’
Lanesville was the national winner, and Uhde accepted the award on behalf of the Lanesville chapter two weeks ago at the national convention in Tulsa. Weber presented the gleaming silver bowl trophy to Tomes and Voelker Friday night.
‘The Lanesville Jaycees had poured their hearts and souls into this project. It showed from Day One,’ Uhde said.
The sad part of the story is that Dan Wigginton lost his battle with cancer. He was 24 when he died on Dec. 11, 2003.
Voelker lost another son, Nathan, who died in an auto accident in Lanesville in 1994 at age 17.
Voelker said Monday, ‘This is just overwhelming for us. This will always stay in our hearts. The people came to help Dan, a young man in the community, and they gave Dan great peace of mind. A good, substantial amount of money has been put into a trust fund for Peyton.’
Peyton is Wigginton’s son, almost 3, who lives with Voelker.