Ten years ago, three insurance executives, Tim Kenny, John Bender and Enda McDonnell, decided to throw a different kind of St. Patrick’s Day party. They knew they wanted the party to benefit children with cancer, but they needed a theme. The story goes that Bender suggested they shave Enda’s head in solidarity with children who lose their hair during their cancer treatments.

“People will gladly pay to see you bald, Enda,” Bender told him. Enda agreed, under one condition.

“I will if you will,” he told his friend.

Now they had a theme. Rather than a St. Patrick’s Day party, they decided to host a St. Baldrick’s bash. They set a goal: Get 17 friends to collect $1,000 each, raising $17,000 by March 17 to witness Bender and McDonnell lose their locks. The luck of the Irish was with them, bringing in not a pot of gold but a pot totaling $104,000.

Little did the three friends know that their St. Baldrick’s event would eventually be touted as the world’s largest volunteer-driven fundraising event benefiting childhood cancer research. According to the St. Baldrick’s web site, “The Foundation now funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government.” Since the first event in 2000, St. Baldrick’s events have been held in 24 countries and all 50 states, raising more than $68 million. Children with cancer normally attend the events to watch their family and friends, and many others, shave their heads in support of the children’s fight.

Today, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation maintains five guiding principles:

Integrity—They are guided to be the greatest stewards of the money donated.

Efficiency—They insist on cost-effectiveness to maximize the amount of money that goes directly to fund cancer research.

Transparency—Their records are always open.

Pioneering Spirit—Their fundraising efforts are “bold and daring,” just like the research they support.

Sense of Fun—Head-shaving events are both fun and funny, inspiring people to return year after year. Naturally, the number of shavees and the crowd grow larger for each event.

The St. Baldrick’s event in the Rio Grande Valley began as a chance meeting that perhaps was actually guided by a leprechaun. Wayne Chapman went to see his dentist, Dr. Ken Baker. While there, Chapman struck up a conversation with Baker’s wife, Raquel. She told him about her niece, Monica Montanaro, the inspiration behind Monica’s Angels. Monica died of cancer at the age of 19. Chapman told her about his involvement with St. Baldrick’s. Raquel Baker told Chapman he had to meet Laura Martinez-Ilgun, director of development and public relations for the Vannie Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer & Hematology Clinic in McAllen.

Chapman wasted no time in contacting Ilgun. When he mentioned St. Baldrick’s, she couldn’t believe it. The clinic had applied for a grant from the foundation, and though it hadn’t been awarded, they had every intention of applying again. They knew the mission of their clinic fit perfectly with that of the foundation.

Nearly 5,000 children have received treatment at the clinic since it opened in 2001. Roughly 87 percent of them are either uninsured or on medicaid. Last year alone, the clinic saw about 700 new patients.

“We must raise approximately $1 million per year so we don’t have to turn any children away,” Ilgun said.

Chapman and his wife, Pat, agreed to hold the first St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event in the Rio Grande Valley. They recruited Bob Heiser and his wife, Carol to help. The Heisers, both pilots and “full-time RVers,” consider San Angelo home. But during the Winter, like the Chapmans, they live at Texas Trails RV Resort in Pharr.

“Asking Bob to run the auction was the luckiest thing we’ve ever done,” Pat said.

Raising money for cancer is a personal mission for the Chapmans. Their son, David, died of lung cancer in September of 2006 at the age of 40. Pat is a colon cancer survivor. Three years ago, the Chapmans’ 11-year-old granddaughter, Katie, raised $4,400 and shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s. First, she grew her hair to waist length and had it cut to donate to Locks of Love. Then, the day of the event, she shaved her head.

“Some might have expected her to be teased,” Chapman said, “but instead several other kids gave her real cute hats.”

They held the first St. Baldrick’s event Feb. 22, 2009, at Texas Trails. Bernie and Red, a popular comedy musical team, headlined the event. Twenty-four volunteers shaved their heads in an event both fun and emotional, raising $29,000. This money leveraged a $62,395 grant Vannie Cook then received from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

“Now we will have a researcher on staff, which will allow us to have kids on clinical trials,” Ilgun said.

This year, the Chapmans, the Heisers and their friends at Texas Trails decided to host a pre-head-shaving event. The Bernie and Red’s Comedy Musical Cancer Benefit was held Feb. 3 at Texas Trails.

This year’s head-shaving event is March 7 at Texas Trails. Those interested in helping can do so in many ways. Shavees are needed to collect money from family, friends and co-workers willing to see them hairless. Organizers are also seeking sponsors and items for the silent auction and raffle.

“We’d like to see police officers, firefighters, school personnel and others join us,” Chapman said. “And we invite the community to come to see the event.”

“Yes,” Ilgun said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Music will be provided by Musical Memories.

The Chapmans, the Heisers and Ilgun said the 2nd Annual St. Baldrick’s event would not be possible without the help of many wonderful people.

“First, we must thank the Wilder Corporation, which operates six RV parks in South Texas, including Texas Trails,” they said. “They have donated the facility for the event and the tickets. We also want to thank Copy Data and owner Venessa Smith for all of their in-kind donations. They do such beautiful work. Last year, Breadsmith sent us wonderful gift baskets for all of the kids and their families and Wal-Mart and HEB donated generously. And we must thank the Texas Valley Round Dancers. The group consists of Winter Texans from across the Valley.”

“We couldn’t have done all of this without them,” Pat Chapman said.

For more information, anyone interested in participating in St. Baldrick’s can contact the Chapmans at 782-1562 or send an email to mailto:shave@fly-web.us.

On the St. Baldrick’s web site, visitors read this:

“How much would you donate for childhood cancer research to see me shave my head in solidarity with kids fighting cancer?” That’s the question St. Baldrick’s shavees ask and friends and family respond generously—worldwide.