Chris Ardis

It’s a new decade for Monica’s Angels. This year marks the 11th anniversary of the group and the 11th “Monica” angel in the series.

The story begins when McAllen Memorial High School sophomore Monica Montanaro was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer). She underwent treatment at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio throughout the year but returned to Memorial her junior year, healthy and full of spunk.

Then, at the start of her senior year in 1998, Monica learned her cancer had returned. Because there were no treatment centers in the Rio Grande Valley for children battling cancer, again Monica and her parents spent months at a time in San Antonio.

Monica’s classmates and friends at Memorial desperately wanted to help her and show their support during her treatments. They got together and decided on a name for themselves: Monica’s Angels.

The angels met with McAllen angel jewelry designer Rosemary Trevińo to see if they could create a special angel, the “Monica” angel. They wanted the angel’s wings uplifted, representing Monica’s cheerful personality and joyous spirit. They also insisted on a gold heart, a symbol of Monica’s generous heart.

Once they completed the design, the angels approached Broadway Hardware owner Tony Aguirre and asked if he would host Monica’s Angels’ Day at the store. That day, they told him, they would sell the “Monica” angel, with proceeds going to help Monica’s family with expenses during their long stays in San Antonio. Tony readily agreed, and they set the date: Dec. 18, 1998, Monica’s 18th birthday.

While Rosemary handcrafted each “Monica” angel, the group approached businesses throughout McAllen asking them to put a special message on their marquees wishing Monica a happy birthday and announcing Monica’s Angels’ Day.

Word spread like wildfire throughout town as the day approached. But then, a few days before the event, the angels received bad news. Monica’s counts were down and doctors were unlikely to allow her to come to McAllen for Monica’s Angels’ Day.

The group considered canceling the event and re-scheduling it for later, but they knew it had to go on. It’s difficult to find the words to describe the emotions felt when the angels learned the night before the event that Monica’s numbers miraculously increased and doctors gave her permission to come home for the event.

According to Monica’s parents, Alfredo and Coquis Montanaro, “Having the support of family, friends and the community gave Monica strength and happiness, which she channeled to deal with her illness.”

Before Broadway Hardware opened Dec. 18, a line had already formed. By 10 a.m., all of the angels were gone and 500 people signed their names to a waiting list. They wanted their “Monica” angel. Monica savored every moment of the day, her biggest birthday party ever. She delighted in seeing birthday wishes on signs in front of businesses all along 10th Street.

Determined to give back to the community that had made Monica’s Angels’ Day such an incredible success, Monica and her angels decided to volunteer for various community service projects throughout the following year. While Monica was in town between treatments, she helped her angels and many others in the community build RioScape, a gift from the Junior League of McAllen to the International Museum of Art and Science.

In May of 2009, the community and Monica’s Angels rejoiced when Monica walked on stage and received her diploma, along with a bouquet of roses from then McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo. There was so much to celebrate.

The angels continued their work in the community, painting a house for Paint McAllen Beautiful, a project of Keep McAllen Beautiful and walking in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. They went door-to-door in the weeks before Thanksgiving to collect canned goods for Channel 5’s Sharing Baskets program.

Then devastation struck again when the angels learned Monica’s cancer had spread and she would have to begin treatments once again. Though Monica’s Angels’ Day was designed to be a one-time event, the angels knew their work wasn’t finished.

Again, they worked with Rosemary to design a new “Monica” angel and Aguirre agreed to host the 2nd Annual Monica’s Angels’ Day. Once again, the community came out in droves to support Monica and her angels.

Monica wanted to be a pediatric oncologist so she could stop the pain children face when dealing with cancer. Now 19, Monica knew the world would be brighter if more people took the time to help others. She vowed that when her own battle with cancer was over, she and her angels would continue their work, with the proceeds from “Monica” angel sales going to help families in the Rio Grande Valley whose children were battling cancer.

On May 30, 2000, six-and-a-half months shy of her 20th birthday, Monica’s battle with cancer ended and she became an angel in heaven. Crushed, her angels came up with a plan. They would make sure Monica’s dream lived on.

There’s a new generation of Monica’s Angels now, high school and college students from McAllen and surrounding communities. I was lucky enough to sponsor this organization for the first seven years before passing the baton to Monica’s aunts, Julie Ramirez and Rachel Baker. Now they have passed the baton.

Just when speculation mounted that the 10th “Monica” angel might be the last, a new decade of angels stepped in with their new sponsors, Monica’s parents and her brother, Alfredo Jr. There is a sense of excitement in the air.

“It is the beginning of a second decade of commitment and willingness to help these special children who are dealing with a serious illness,” said Monica’s dad. “And it is a reassurance that Monica’s ideals remain entrenched in the lives of many people.”

The 11th Annual Monica’s Angels’ Day will be held at Broadway Hardware South on the corner of Bus. 83 and Second Street on Saturday, Dec. 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On this day, the 11th “Monica” angel will be available, along with many of the past years’ angels.

Although Rosemary Trevino moved to Houston, she continues to make the “Monica” angel each year. Cost of the new angel and the 10th Anniversary “Monica” is $15. All other past angels are $10. Throughout the year, the 11th “Monica” angel can be purchased at Broadway Hardware or the Vannie Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer & Hematology Clinic.

Many children being treated at Vannie Cook have benefited from the work of Monica’s Angels and the continued support of the community. “Since the opening of the Vannie Cook Children’s Cancer Clinic in 2001, Monica’s Angels has donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours to help the clinic,” said Laura Martinez Ilgun, director of development and public relations for Vannie Cook. Monica’s Angels provides direct support for families. The group has also granted a wish for a Make-a-Wish Foundation child and hosted incredible Halloween parties for the children at Vannie Cook, allowing them to laugh and have fun for a day and forget about their treatments.

Monica’s Angels is always seeking new angels to help with their efforts. To get more information on becoming an angel, contact Monica’s dad at 330-3722. Pre-order forms are now available at Broadway Hardware stores Valleywide and at Vannie Cook.

“Although Monica lost her battle with cancer in 2000, her dream continues because of the many children helped by the organization started in her name,” said Martinez Ilgun. This year’s angel has the signature gold heart. It also has silver wings reminiscent of a butterfly, the symbol of new life. A new decade, new life…the “Monica” angel…a symbol of courage, faith, hope and love.