EagleHerald Staff Writer
MARINETTE—The Pete & Elaine Lesperance Foundation is holding its annual cancer fundraiser Oct. 24 at the Elks Lodge on Bridge Street in Marinette. This year’s fundraiser will also be a celebration of life for Dan Lesperance, who died from cancer Aug. 29 and was one of the founders of the annual Sick of Winter Party along with his brother Dave.
There is no registration or entry fee for the fundraiser event, which will revolve around a noon Packer’s game. The Elks Lodge doors will open starting at 11 a.m. and a buffet will be available from noon through half-time. The buffet costs $12.99 for adults and $6.99 for children 10 and under. There will also be a raffle with items such as two six-month EagleHerald subscriptions and gift baskets donated by community members. All proceeds from the buffet and raffle tickets will go to local cancer families in need.
The Lesperance family began informally fundraising for cancer patients and their families during Pete Lesperance’s battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the early 2000s. Pete’s son Chris Lesperance, who is the Marinette County highway safety coordinator and lieutenant, said his family began a tradition of giving a Christmas card full of money to one of the nurses and asking them to give it to someone in need while his father was in treatment and after one of his sister’s close friends died from cancer.
Retired nurse Ruth Kluetz, who was Pete’s oncology nurse at what is now the Aurora Cancer Center, gave these cards to families at the clinic.
“Many of the families cried,” she said. “There was one man who said, ‘these people don’t even know me, I don’t think anyone has done something so kind for me in my life.’”
Kluetz said that if she or the former oncologist Dr. David Mertens knew anyone who was in need, they would give the Lesperance family a call. “They were there every single darn time, they never said no,” Kluetz said.
“Having someone in the family with cancer affects everybody in the family, whether it be physically, emotionally or monetarily. It doesn’t discriminate,” Chris Lesperance said. “So, we tried to give back something just to help make people’s day a little brighter.”
The Lesperance family continued this tradition of giving in various forms. After his father died in April 2009, Lesperance said his family started an informal golf outing fundraiser for cancer families.
“We just had our own family and friends, we had our small bucket raffles,” Lesperance said. “We did that for a couple of years in a row and pretty soon it just started to balloon.”
Lesperance’s brothers Dan and Dave also launched the Sick of Winter Party at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Menominee about four years after Pete died. The party is a social fundraiser that serves the dual purpose of raising money for cancer patients and their families while also offsetting mid-winter cabin fever by bringing people together.
In 2015, the Lesperance siblings officially founded the Pete & Elaine Lesperance Foundation, a formal 501©3 organization, in memory of their parents. The foundation board currently consists of Lesperance and his siblings Beth, Patti, Susan, Michael, David, Jim, Ken and Richard. Lesperance said that there are also numerous other people in the community who volunteer to help run the foundation.
Since the foundation officially began in 2015, Lesperance said it has raised and donated more than $85,000. The foundation distributes the money it raises directly to individuals and families that are recommended to it by people in the community.
“We do a background check by talking to people who may know of their situation and then we vote on it and write a check and then someone will deliver it,” Lesperance said. “People can use the money for bills or to go to Disneyland, it doesn’t matter. We don’t ask and we don’t care.”
The Sick of Winter Party also merged with the foundation, and Lesperance said that it has become the foundation’s most popular event. Dave and Dan had been planning a party for 2022 following the party’s cancellation during COVID-19. Dan, however, died Aug. 29 after battling cancer for about 10 years. Lesperance said that the Oct. 24 fundraiser, therefore, is also a celebration of Dan’s life.
Lesperance said that being part of the foundation and seeing people’s support for its cause throughout the years has strengthened his ties to the community.
“We’re very lucky to be living in this community, we’re very fortunate to have the family and friends that we do, we’re very fortunate that people will come together to support a cause that affects a lot of different people,” he said. “The connections that have been made through tough times are very long lasting in this foundation, and doing these fundraisers has built new friendships, no doubt.”