We’re coming up on nearly a decade since our agency sent out a holiday card to clients that carried an extra-special meaning and message, linking past with present via an inexplicable moment of foreshadowing. It also chronicles the generosity of Leonard Tose, the Eagles organization, and fans, the vision of Drs. Audrey Evans and Milton H. “Mickey” Donaldson, and the history behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Fly For Leukemia” and the birth of the nation’s first Ronald McDonald House right here in Philadelphia. I would normally save this for the holiday season, except I have an ulterior motive. I am hoping any good karma it generates will motivate readers to visit my personal fundraising page for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night walk to raise money for treatment of all forms of blood cancer. Here is the link if you find yourself so moved:
And here is the holiday card retelling. . .
A TRUE STORY ABOUT THE MOST IMPORTANT WIN IN PHILADELPHIA EAGLES’ HISTORY.
WITH HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT NEWTON ASSOCIATES
I’d like to share a story with you. It isn’t a holiday tale, but it is appropriate for this annual time of reflection. This story is personal, remarkable, humbling, and downright Capra-esque.
It begins back in the 1970s in the early days of Newton Associates when Jon Newton and Harry Streamer had some high profile local accounts in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a heady time, especially for the sports fans in the office. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Through the Eagles in particular, Jon and Harry became involved in some worthy charities that the football club was helping to launch. Personal involvement at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia led Eagles executives to start Eagles Fly for Leukemia and to collaborate with McDonald’s on the first-ever Ronald McDonald House, which as you probably know provides a home away from home for families who need a nearby place to stay while their sick child is hospitalized for treatment.
Back then, Newton Associates created promotional materials for both charities. And in the 1974 Eagles yearbook, in an article reprinted here, Jon chronicled the efforts of a lot of generous people, who opened their hearts and their pocketbooks on behalf of numerous sick children and their families.
If you have a moment, I encourage you to read this article; not because it is Jon’s finest prose, but because it is filled with inspirational examples of people making a huge difference. I came across it myself going through agency samples in preparation for a new business pitch. When I read it, I did so with more than casual interest. And by the end of the article, I’d had a genuine epiphany.
For the reasons why, you need to fast forward from the 1970s to September 1999. When my youngest of three sons was a month shy of his first birthday, he developed some unusual bruising on his right thigh. A visit to our family doctor led to testing at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood leukemia. Needless to say, this was devastating news and a difficult time for my family. Thanks to the medical team at CHOP, my incredibly strong and determined wife, Drina, and the assistance of a network of amazing friends, church members, neighbors, and in some cases, total strangers, we somehow managed to complete three and one-half years of chemo treatment for my son. In remission for the start of this protocol, he remains healthy and cancer free today, just celebrated his sixth birthday, and entered kindergarten this fall.
There’s more to this story, however, and I continue to wrestle with it in my own mind to define whether it represents a mind-bending coincidence or my own personal version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” At the end of Jon’s article, he concludes with a hypothetical example to encourage readers to keep on giving because back in 1974, there were a lot more sick children to cure and many more medical advances needed. He gave this hypothetical sick child a name — Peter.
That just happens to be the name of my youngest son.
I don’t see any point in debating the unfathomable odds of picking that very same name, 24 years apart. I do know that the odds of a child surviving common childhood leukemia increased from 50% in 1974 to well over 90% when my son was diagnosed in 1999. And I know that those statistics didn’t increase by coincidence, but rather through the hard work and generosity of a never-ending stream of people, some of them encouraged no doubt by the early work for Eagles charities done by Jon and Harry.
It doesn’t hurt once in awhile to remind ourselves that we can make a positive difference in each other’s lives in ways we can never ever begin to imagine. And that something good we do today can yield surprising results even decades later. It is in this spirit that your friends at Newton Associates would like to make a donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities. In honor of Jon Newton and Harry Streamer for their early efforts on behalf of that organization. And in your honor as a valued friend of this agency. Best of the season and the New Year to you!
And reprinted from the 1974 Philadelphia Eagles yearbook. . .
Reflections In A Passed Hat
by Jon Newton
Maybe you were there.
It happened on Sunday afternoon, November 25, 1973. The Eagles were taking on the New York Giants in front of a Vet full of typical fans.
It was a 100 percent football day. The Eagles had just come off a loss to Dallas. Earlier in the season they were tied by the Giants. The fans definitely — but definitely! — were in no mood for another tie. Everybody was still smarting from the embarrassing 42-41 loss to the Giants in Princeton in the pre-season.
Just before the kickoff, an announcement was made that the hat would be passed during the game. It was hard to believe. In the midst of 20th-century football with all its sophistication, in front of 63,000 hard-nosed fans, the Eagles were passing the hat!
Most of the newer football fans in the Vet that day probably didn’t even know what passing the hat meant. Some of the old-timers probably just smiled, remembering when that’s the way it used to be. Not in pro ball so much, but certainly in semi-pro and neighborhood ball.
The fact is, passing the hat is an American tradition as old as the origins of football itself. When pro ball was trying to get started along the railroad tracks of the Midwest, and on empty lots and high-school fields in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, passing the hat was it. There was no other team income.
The very first professional football game of record was a hat passer. Latrobe, PA August 31, 1895; Latrobe 12, Jeanette zip. The teams split the hat and divided it up among the players. Latrobe quarterback John Brailier, who was guaranteed ten bucks, went home high man.
Seventy-nine years later, with $12.50 seats, $100,000 ball players, and multi-million dollar television rights, passing the hat — for any reason — seemed pretty bush. But maybe that helped to make what happened at the Vet that day even more significant. Oh there was football all right. Plenty of it. And there really was a collection taken up in the stands. Actually, the two came together beautifully. Because just as the hats were going through the crowd, Gabriel uncorked a scoring pass to Zimmerman. People were on their feet, cheering and emptying their pockets simultaneously.
The Eagles won that day. In a small measure, so did mankind. Because when the game ended it was Eagles 20, Giants 16, leukemia $20,055. Twentieth-century football and traditional American hat passing had gotten along fine. Just fine.
It proved something. It proved that the football fan, the ultimate ball player, is still willing to make the payments. That he is still the greatest source of revenue — for professional football and for charity. Sure, he’ll bitch about what inflation has done to the price of ball park beer and hot dogs. And rightly so. But he still has the capacity to dig into his wallet and contribute this much and more, to help fight some disease that he has trouble spelling, much less understanding. It say something for the football fan. It says something for the American way.
Most of the time the fan doesn’t get any recognition for tossing his well-earned money into the hat of a charitable cause. It is the popular high-salaried player, donating his time to appear at fund-raising functions, who gets the acclaim. Let us acclaim both. Their contributions are equal.
The hat passing was the first really organized move in an effort that has come to be known as “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.” It’s hard to say precisely how the effort got started and who was responsible. Right there from the beginning was ex-Eagles player Freddy Hill. It was Hill who announced that the hat would be passed at the Vet last November. Hill is very close to the whole thing because he’s very close to his daughter. Kim Hill is eight years old. She has leukemia.
Fred Hill, along with his neighbor, Stan Lane, has been trying to raise funds to fight leukemia ever since his daughter was diagnosed five years ago. Back then it was just the two of them — one man with a very personal stake in a victory over leukemia; one friend who wanted to help. They stomped the neighborhoods, put out coin boards with Eagles emblems on them, and gathered players and wives together for fund-raising fashion shows. They did as much as two guys could. And they raised some money.
But leukemia is a big disease. It would take big money to beat it. And that would take Eagles participation in a big way.
Last fall Freddy Hill made his case, as only as man with his singularly heavy burden could, to Jim Murray, Eagles administrative assistant. Murray got involved. Instantly. Completely. In turn, he involved Eagles owner Leonard Tose. Tose involved Roman Gabriel and Mike McCormack. They involved the whole team. Doctors Audrey E. Evans and Milton H. Donaldson, oncologist and assistant oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, got involved. Some pretty important people and some pretty big organizations also got involved. But greater than the sum of all these, the average Philadelphia Eagles football fan got involved.
Joe Scirrotto is an average Eagles fan who runs a Gulf station at Rising Sun and Van Kirk in the Northeast. He has a great sense of humor. Ask him for a key to the restroom and his eyes narrow in mock seriousness.
“You’re in luck,” he says. “I got one left.”
Joe Scirrotto has an even greater sense of obligation. By the time you read this he will have raised over $10,000 for “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”
That’s a real piece of work. But then Joe Scirrotto is a real piece of work. He thinks somewhere between Norman Vincent Peale and P.T. Barnum. Last year, just about the time the leukemia thing was getting off the ground, Joe saw some of the fun going out of his business. He had also seen the life go out of six of his customers and relatives of customers because of leukemia. Scirrotto decided to somehow do something about both. “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” became his vehicle.
Scirroto began by donating one cent on every gallon of Gulftane — a brand being discontinued — his station pumped. That wasn’t enough, so Joe started badgering the Eagles office with things to do.
He got the Eagles helmet cart up to his station and charged for kids to have pictures taken in it. He got football players to make personal appearances. He sold Eagles memorabilia ranging from knit hats, to decals, to color photos of Roman Gabriel. He plastered his gas station with so many posters and handmade signs that it became hard to tell it was a gas station. It still wasn’t enough.
When Gulftane ran out, Joe carried his cent-a-gallon donation policy over to the regular brand. . .pretty remarkable since he was already selling it at 49.9, probably the lowest price in the city. But again, it wasn’t enough. Scirrotto began to conduct weekly raffles: a set of radial tires, 100 gallons of gas, 50 gallons of gas. When somebody gave him a load of hot dogs, he raffled them off in 30 pound lots. He raffled off glassware and tableware as well. A customer brought in some stained-glass green and white eagles she had made. Joe sold them at $10 a copy.
Another vendor donated a lot of penny bubble gum for Joe to do with as he saw fit. Joe saw fit to sell it at 10 cents a piece, two for a quarter. The sense of humor never faded. Neither did the drive. He sold all the bubble gum and looked around for more. More of anything. His calls to the Eagles office became increasingly frequent — more photos, more decals, more players. Once he asked for eight players to appear at the same time to sign autographs. Can you believe it? In the middle of an NFL strike he wanted eight players!
Scirrotto set himself a September 15 deadline to raise the $10,000. What’s he doing now that it’s all over? You got to know Joe Scirrotto. For him it isn’t over until there is a cure for leukemia. Right now he’s probably still trying to get those eight players. So what if it’s the middle of the season!
If an average guy with an above-average sense of duty like Joe Scirrotto could raise $10,000 would could some carefully selected high-powered organizations do? Jim Murray and Hugh Ortman, special projects coordinator hired to run “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” decided to find out.
Murray and Ortman made a pitch to NFL Charities. It was unusual. NFL Charities does a lot of good work on a national basis; getting involved in something as pinpointed as “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” was new to them. The proposal went to the League Office in New York. Murray and Ortman went too, and walked away with $20,000 earmarked to sponsor a fully-qualified doctor to do basic and clinical leukemia research for one year. Dr. Allan H. Arbeter started the job early in September at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a designated national cancer research center.
Once the Eagles players and fans really began to fly for leukemia they found they were not flying alone.
Bobby Clarke, the NHL’s most valuable player, presented $400 in cash collected from his Flyer teammates. A midget football league in Kensington passed the hat at its championship game and then went door-to-door. They collected $1,000. A mini-bike raffle conducted by a Harley-Davidson dealer in Norristown raised another $300. The South West Used Auto Parts Association asked for Bill Bradley or Po James to appear at their annual banquet. Both appeared and the fund was $1,500 richer. A 24-hour basketball marathon run by St. Bernard’s CYO raised $315. Several Eagles players went to the opening of Dunfey’s Sheraton Inn at the airport. They took a fish bowl along and came back with $700 in it. A Villanova inter-fraternity softball marathon was rained out but still managed to collect $285. Liberty Mutual Insurance raised $200 in a social club raffle. Roman Gabriel and Hugh Ortman worked out a golf tournament with Radley Run Country Club. It raised over $3,000. A gal named Barbara Kuchenmeister took it upon herself to organize a dinner-dance in Glenside. Roman Gabriel made an appearance. So did Steve Zabel and his wife, Susan. So did 450 people. In the end, over $7,000 was raised. The Vet ushers were so impressed by the November 25 hat passing that they donated part of their pay for the day. Pop Warner League football players of the Northeast Suburban Athletic Conference going door-to-door with a goal of collecting $15,000.
Not all the donations to “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” have been in the form of money. They have been no less valuable.
Continental Bank officiated at the Vet hat passing and provided tellers to count the money. It continues to provide free banking services to the fund. Stan Lane enlisted over 500 volunteers to help with collections and various administrative chores. Hundreds of others have called to help.
Everyone who did anything deserves a mention here. Unfortunately, that is impossible — partly because there are so many and partly because many people joined forces as an organization in order to accomplish more than they could individually. One such organization was McDonald’s.
There’s a sign in front of all McDonald’s. You’ve seen it — something about 18 billion served. It refers to the number of hamburgers McDonald’s has served. The Philadelphia area McDonald’s could well put up another sign about the hundreds of leukemia victims they have served through their efforts in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”
Remember the green shakes McDonald’s serves every year during St. Patrick’s Day week? This year there was something different about them. For one thing Roman Gabriel went on television and radio to push them. Now any day you can get Roman Gabriel to go on TV and push anything of any color, you have to do something pretty special in return. McDonald’s did. They donated the profit on every green shake served. It came to a fantastic $32,218.30.
Later in the year, Harold Carmichael made an appearance at the opening of a new McDonald’s at 13th and Market. Half the proceeds of the day were donated — another $1,900.
The money raised by the McDonald’s operators and managers who participated in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” went to purchase a guest house near The Children’s Hospital. The house, now being converted into a boarding-type facility, will be called “Ronald McDonald House,” and will be used by leukemic children and their parents who must travel long distances to the hospital for treatment. It is impossible to image the emotional and financial strain on parents whose children are stricken with leukemia. The Ronald McDonald House will help relieve both, by providing free accommodations to parents and providing the opportunity for them to share thoughts with people who carry a similar burden.
Up until a few months ago the Ronald McDonald House was just that. A house. The interior needed a lot of work before anyone could live there. John Canuso, a South Jersey builder, heard about the need at The Children’s Hospital. He goes there often. His daughter has leukemia. John Canuso is completely renovating the inside of Ronald McDonald House. Free.
The Ronald McDonald House was based on a concept of Dr. Evans and Donaldson. Jim Murray took the idea to advertising man Don Tuckerman. He took it to the McDonald’s operators and managers. Green shakes became the vehicle to make the idea a reality. It is typical of the many great ideas that have come from “Eagles Fly For Leukemia.”
Jim Murray still had what was perhaps the best idea: to get the Eagles team and the Eagles fans pulling together for leukemia in the first place. If that is true, his second best idea had to be the victory party held after the successful hat passing at the Vet. It proved to be the biggest single money maker so far.
Like everything else in “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” this victory party involved more giving than celebrating. It was decided to tie in two elements of the party, a $1,000-per-couple ticket charge and a fashion show, with kids phoning in pledges directly to their favorite Eagles players. Some way was needed to get the word out on a broad scale. WIP provided that way. It threw the efforts of the entire station behind the project, including a full night of air time for the victory party “radiothon.” Sixty telephones were installed in the Eagles offices to handle the response. As it turned out that wasn’t enough.
To handle the tickets for the party a committee was formed by Len Tose’s friends — Herb Barness, Sidney Forstater, Whitney Kerchner, Harold Honickman, Billy Hyndman, III, John Taxin, Wally Leventhal, and Roy Peraino — all men who know other men who could afford $1,000 for tickets. Together they sold 40 of them.
The radiothon got an early start with a plug on the Eagles-49ers game a week before the party. The phones started ringing. Along the way Dandy Don Meredith plugged it again on NFL Monday Night Football. More calls came in from that, and from almost incessant mentioning of the radiothon by WIP personalities.
But it really wasn’t until about 7:00 pm, December 5, the night of the victory party, that all hell broke loose. Ever see 60 phones light up and stay lighted for hours on end? It was like an early Christmas with thousands of Santas calling in presents. The party was a long one. When it was over, more than $80,000 had been raised. The Eagles weren’t flying for leukemia anymore. They were soaring!
To date, better than $200,000 has been raised. That’s a lot of money. It might help to know where it’s all going.
It’s all going — every cent of it — to equip the leukemia in-patient, out-patient, and research laboratory facilities at the new Children’s Hospital, 34th and Civic Center Boulevard. Every cent? That means every cent after expenses, right? No. It means every cent, period. All the costs and expenses of “Eagles Fly For Leukemia,” and they are considerable, are coming out of Leonard Tose’s pocket. He wouldn’t have it any other way. And because of the kind of man Len Tose is, we’ll never know the value of his contribution in dollars and cents.
We can’t even guess what his bill will be. The salary of a full-time coordinator. The cost of telephones. The tab for good and drink for hundreds of people at the victory party. Secretarial labor. The cost of thousands of Eagle souvenirs. The cost of making his players available for personal appearances. It’s all on Len Tose.
The $200,000 raised so far is a lot, but it is not enough. Not nearly enough. What is the goal then? For Dr. Audrey E. Evans, a most remarkable woman who heads the oncology department at The Children’s Hospital, anything would have been a godsend. The day she told Freddy Hill it would cost $800,000 to equip the entire oncology floor it was beyond her wildest dreams that this would become the “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” goal. Freddy Hill never dreamed of it either. Jim Murray saw the possibilities. Len Tose made it definite. This, then, is the goal. $800,000.
And it will take every penny of the goal to do the job. Leukemia treatment and research requires sums of money that boggle the mind.
A simple microscope with a dual-reading head (so it can be used simultaneously for clinical research and teaching) costs $2,500. The hospital has three; it should have twice that many. A refrigerated ultra-centrifuge used to differentially separate the proteins in biological fluids is a basic tool of leukemia research. It costs a basic $15,000. Most of the other sophisticated equipment carries a similar price tag. Still, these are the low-end items. A life island unit, which Dr. Evans describes as “a special area we set aside for the little people who require very special isolated treatment,” costs $50,000. It only accommodates two children.
The treatment of leukemia is also incredibly expensive. The cost of an average visit to the oncology out-patient clinic is over $300. Some current leukemia chemotherapy requires a drug so expensive that it is impossible to buy. The value placed on it is so high that no one could possibly afford it, so the government has to make it available at no cost.
There is no known cure for leukemia, a disease that causes white cells to multiply in number to a point where they displace other normal blood-forming elements. Most of us know leukemia as cancer of the blood. It actually starts in the bone marrow. This year 350,000 people will die from cancer — about one person every two minutes. Of these, over three thousand will be children. most of them will die from leukemia.
Is it all worth it, then? As cruel as that question may seem, isn’t it possible that leukemia is a disease for which there is no cure now and perhaps never will be?
Consider a child with leukemia. Let’s call him Peter. As little as 25 years ago leukemia would have been fatal to him. Anywhere from six weeks to six months after diagnosis. Peter would have been dead. Today, he has a 50 percent chance of surviving for at least four years after diagnosis. By the measure of a healthy child these are still pretty rotten odds. But in the measurement of progress it is nothing short of miraculous. Because for Peter there is now hope where once there was none. Hell yes, it’s worth it.
Dr. Audrey Evans knows it’s worth it. She doesn’t talk about curing a child with leukemia, but she never stops talking about the hope for a cure. It is not a false hope. The cure for leukemia has to be just around the corner. But which corner? It will take time and money to find out. For now the best doctors can do for a child with leukemia is achieve a remission — an arresting of the disease and a rollback of its effects. For how long? It varies. The progress made in lengthening remission time has been remarkable. But it is still never long enough.
Dr. Milton H. “Mickey” Donaldson knows about periods of remission and the hopes of lengthening them. He has what must be the toughest job in the world. Mickey Donaldson helps kids battle against leukemia. He never wins. The best he can do is prolong the ultimate defeat. How many of us could do this job — a job that is measured by how long it takes a child to die.
Mickey Donaldson doesn’t see his job that way. He talks instead about how long he can keep a child alive. Because for every minute gained there is the chance that a new drug, a new method of therapy, a cure, will end the fight for good.
Mickey Donaldson’s children are what “Eagles Fly For Leukemia” is all about. They are the reason why the hat has to keep passing. It must stop only long enough to be emptied, and then it must be passed again. And each time you put something in it, a child with leukemia might live a little longer. It is the only way in God’s earth that we can actually buy time. If we spend enough, we may buy that child a complete life.
It’s not so remote to think of it all in a football context. You’re losing and it’s a fourth and inches situation. There isn’t any real question is there?
You go for it.