The Telethon*

January 19, 2012 at 12:08pm

By Correne Martin

downloadEach year, the talent is a little bit different; the long-time veterans bring back the favorites and the newcomers add a touch of their own flair. But in the end, the result is the same: the community of Prairie du Chien raises thousands of dollars for the Eagles Club Heart and Cancer Telethon.

“It’s really a community project, a community celebration,” said Tom Nelson, one of the telethon committee members who has helped out since the beginning.

Now in its 37th year, the Saturday, Jan. 28 telethon at Bluff View Intermediate School promises yet another entertaining evening for a good cause. Hosts Tom Nelson and Tom Stram will be dressed in tuxedos and Angie Mikkelson and Natalie Stram with be decked out too. Autumn Skye Kivi will open the night’s activities by singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and the Prairie du Chien High School jazz choir will close with “What a Wonderful World,” while plenty of other talents will fill in between. Proceeds from the 5-10 p.m. telethon will benefit the national Eagles Charity Foundation’s Max Baer Heart Fund and Art Ehrmann Cancer Fund. The donated monies are split 50/50.

The history of the Prairie du Chien Eagles Club Heart and Cancer Telethon dates back to 1976, when committee members included Bob Steele, Faye Grim, Dick Obmascher, Bob Sebastian, Edward Ferrin, Jim Bittner Sr., Richard Hagensack and Bob Zeil. In its inaugural year, the event raised $3,200. It was held in the building that now houses MediaCom.

For the first four years, the amount raised for heart and cancer research hovered between $3,200 and $4,400. In 1981, the decision was made to move the telethon to B.A. Kennedy, as more room was necessary for the growing night of fun. That year, the funds raised equaled $6,600, more than double the first year’s output.

In 1993, the telethon surpassed the $10,000 mark, and it has continued to grow ever since. In 1998, it brought in $20,000, and in 2003, $30,000. For the past 10 years, especially since the 2000 move to Bluff View, the yearly collection has netted between $30,000 and $40,000—although the latter figure has never quite been reached.

Last year’s funds were $35,030. Combining all the years, the Prairie du Chien community telethon’s 36-year tally is up to $612,733. And things aren’t slowing down.

According to Nelson, all the money the telethon has raised has been earmarked specifically for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Foundation, the Gundersen-Lutheran Foundation, and the Franciscan Skemp Foundation—regional entities that benefit local residents.

“It’s nice that it’s gone for research in this local region,” Nelson said. “We’re allowed to disperse it where we want.”

The success of the telethon over the years wouldn’t be possible without the countless volunteers and businesses that donate money and in-kind items. Major sponsors are a big part of the night as they give $500 to sponsor one hour of the event. Everything from the tuxedos and food for the volunteers to telephone and auctioneering services, and the TV broadcast system has been donated. Even the 25-plus auction items and 50-60 entertainment acts are provided for free.

“Any expenses are paid for by the Eagles Club,” said Paul White, another telethon committee member who has been a part of the telethon since he started answering phones 37 years ago. “And the money we raise doesn’t just come out of Prairie du Chien. We get it from Eastman, Wauzeka, Bloomington, Boscobel, McGregor, Marquette, etc.”

While the money is the key reason for holding the Heart and Cancer Telethon, the Eagles Club and community put on a real show each and every year as well. Nelson said the production utilizes three cameras and another that moves around, making the spectacle quite professional.

“We have a pretty effective means of communicating our auction items,” Nelson stated. “MediaCom brings another level of professionalism to our show with their technological capabilities.”

So, once again in 2012, the telethon will kick off with great vitality at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28. The in-studio audience, seating 50-60 people, is a place where anyone can enjoy the live show up close and personal. Otherwise, the public is welcome to enjoy the telethon on the air waves of Cable Channel 6. Or, new this year, the event will be streamed live on the Internet at www.ustream.com (search “Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon 2012,” you should see the Eagles Club logo or what looks like a tiny Ch. 6 screen, if it’s being broadcast live).

Be sure to watch the telethon and consider doing your part for heart and cancer research.

“We never set a goal. But we say if we can raise $1 more, we’re happy,” Nelson said. “Obviously the objective of the telethon is to raise money, but the goal of the telethon is to bring the community together in an effort to recognize talents and give people a chance to gather and enjoy themselves.”

*Courier Press January 18, 2012