Celebrate Prairie du Chien telethon tradition Saturday

By Correne Martin Permission given 1/23/2017
The 42nd annual Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon is Saturday, Jan. 28, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Bluff View School in Prairie du Chien. It will be broadcast live on local Mediacom channel 6 and online (link will be available on Facebook: Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon PDC).
In 2016, a record-setting $43,700 was raised, taking the total over the past four decades to $810,566.
“The telethon’s roots are in our ability to put on a television show and we encourage people to get on their telephone and make a pledge,” said co-host Nelson, who has been a driving force of the telethon from nearly the beginning. “That’s what our grassroots past is all about. Local talent is our focus and it’s entirely Prairie du Chien’s own. Our community is what adds character to this project and it doesn’t take away from the mission of what we’re doing.”
The telethon ultimately brings awareness and raises funds toward heart disease and cancer research. The money raised is earmarked specifically for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Research Foundation, the Gundersen-Lutheran Foundation and the Franciscan Skemp Foundation—all three regional entities that benefit local residents.
“We all have family members or people close to us who are dealing with either cancer or heart disease,” added Dan Moris, who will co-host for the third year this Saturday. “I lost my grandpa to cancer this past year. My son was born with a heart defect and needed surgery. It affects us all. I’m really proud to be a part of a community effort to raise money for research and support.”
Each year, the telethon is organized by a committee of the Eagles Aerie 1502 and the Eagles Auxiliary. They take care of finding and scheduling talent to appear on the live broadcast, soliciting donations from local businesses and organizations, organizing the in-studio activities, working with the schools and other civic clubs who volunteer and assuring the technology is available to put on a successful show.
“It’s that nucleus of people who really keep the heartbeat of this thing going,” Nelson said. “They are responsible for turning this into a community celebration.”
In addition to Nelson and Moris, fellow Eagle and longtime host Tom Stram, and his daughter Natalie Stram, will return to the microphones as the third and fourth co-hosts. 2017 happens to be a special telethon for the Strams, who lost their father and grandfather, Clem Stram, to brain cancer this past year.
This weekend, in fact, there will be a special hour dedicated to Clem and to raising funds for brain cancer. It will include a 10-minute talk show, The Tom and Tom Show, which will be highlighted with singing and audience participation.
Another new aspect, aside from more original talent, is a spotlight on the Win Program from the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution. The inmates have donated toward the cause and a representative from the prison will provide their contribution on-air.
Of course, there will be the usual stage participants and presenting donors as well.
The Prairie du Chien High School wrestlers will give their Push-ups for Pennies donation to the telethon. It’s typically above $1,000.
“They set aside one night where they go out and solicit pledges. Then, [the wrestlers] all do the same amount of push-ups and they bring that money with them when they come on TV,” Nelson explained, noting that Push-ups for Pennies has been ongoing since 2000, when the telethon moved from B.A. Kennedy to Bluff View. “It’s involvement like this that develops character in these kids. You can see the pride in their faces as they show that they can do something that’s totally outside the realm of what they’re participating in.”
The 12th Street Telethon Party, another one of the Hearty Donors ($1,000-plus) in addition to the wrestlers, Sew Watts and MPC, will present its total raised at the Jan. 21 bowling tournament for the Eagles Heart and Cancer Telethon. This was the first year this group has held its telethon fundraiser a week before the actual live broadcast.
“We decided to shake things up a bit and have our party a week early in hopes that we could bring some more people out to support this great cause,” stated Liz Bremmer, one of the organizers. “It’s a great feeling helping our local organization raise money for something near and dear to all of us. We all know someone affected by these horrible diseases so it feels great to help in any way we can. Someday, maybe all our efforts will find a cure.”
Fellow Hearty Donor MPC will hand over its gift the night of the telethon too. Lisa Mara, MPC human resources manager, said the corporation, each year, gives the local factory money toward charities of its choice. For more than 10 years, MPC has proudly given $1,000 to the telethon.
“To help with raising money for heart disease and cancer is something that means a lot to our employees and their families,” said Mara, who has watched three family members battle these diseases. “It’s an awesome cause that fights something that has touched so many of us.”
An additional familiar feature of the night will be the Tree of Hope, which started in 2016 in honor of Tom and Cathie Nelson’s infant nephew, Charlie, a cardiac baby. The purpose of the Tree of Hope is to name all of the people from or with connections to the area who are currently fighting heart disease or cancer. The Rotary Club assists with this part of the program.
“We’re happy to report that baby Charlie is doing better,” Cathie Nelson shared.
In the studio, artist John Mundt will create caricatures and the Prairie du Chien Boy Scouts will sell concessions at Bluff View throughout the telethon. Both have contributed generously over the years.
Also at Bluff View will be a variety of auction items donated by local entities and the public’s interest in bidding on these has always been great, according to Nelson.
Tickets, baskets, gift certificates and other goodies will also be auctioned and raffled at the Eagles Club the night of the telethon. Finger foods and sandwiches will be served there, beginning at 5 p.m., followed by a live auction at 7 p.m., a raffle ticket drawing at 9 p.m. and plenty of loud, lively fun until the early hours of the morning.
“I enjoy seeing what we’re able to raise and then going over to the school, going on TV and telling the community all about it,” said Monte Ames, Eagles Club president. “I also hope that everyone who has ever helped with the telethon over the years knows how much we appreciate their efforts. It really takes a community to put this on.”
So, whether it’s your 42nd time or your very first viewing, don’t miss the telethon this Saturday.  Watch a few minutes or stay up all night like so many do. Call in and donate, bid on something or ask for a name to be added to the Tree of Hope. It’s a community tradition for a tremendously consequential cause.
“What makes the telethon so great is that it’s your friends and neighbors on TV,” Moris added. “If you’re in the Prairie du Chien area, you’re almost certain to see someone you know performing or helping with the show.”
“As our community and world around us change, the telethon evolves from year to year,” Nelson said. “If we can raise $1 more for heart disease and cancer research, we’re happy.”