The year 2022 marks the huge milestone of 50 years in the very special partnership between ESA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. In 1972, ESA officially recognized St. Jude as an international project. St. Jude continues to lead the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases; and ESA members from across the globe continue to passionately spread awareness and raise funds to support the work of St. Jude.
Written by Zane Smith
St. Jude Founder Danny Thomas opened the doors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® in 1962, and eight years later in 1970, was invited to speak at the ESA International Council Convention about the St. Jude mission, where he personally asked ESA for its support. ESA presented Danny with an honorary ESA membership and after the convention received a letter from him about the experience. He wrote, “All of you should be very proud of the great efforts that you are putting forth in community action and, as I stated during my talk to you, we have much in common…It is my sincere hope that our two organizations can work together in the many areas of this country.”
For the next two years, ESA members across the country began hosting fundraising and awareness events in support of St. Jude and in 1972, ESA officially declared St. Jude an international project for all chapters. Rich White, ALSAC/St. Jude’s then National Director of Fundraising, having recently spent time at ESA’s Headquarters in Loveland, Colorado with the International Council and Headquarters staff leaders wrote in an open letter to the ESA membership, “We at ALSAC are tremendously impressed with the many local philanthropic activities of (ESA) chapters throughout the country...this local charitable work must continue.
Out of the meeting came the announcement of an exciting project, The Million Dollar Bike Ride, to be kicked off through a joint effort of ESA Headquarters and ALSAC/St. Jude as a national-scale fundraiser for the hospital. ESA members everywhere asked for pledges of cents per mile traveled on their own bicycles and many chapters found creative ways to support the project such as hosting Tricycle Travel for Kids events. The headliner event of the Million Dollar Bike Ride consisted of six ESA member riders who rode bicycles coast-to-coast from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles for 64 days in the summer of 1974. Longtime member Billeye Putnam was one of the cyclists and said, “After pedaling 2,368 miles, we knew we had helped plant a seed that would grow into the million dollars ESA had pledged to the hospital.” The project raised over a quarter-million dollars for St. Jude and began the amazing partnership between ESA and St. Jude that continues to this day.