By Rev. William Stang, MD, C.PP.S. '72
The earliest written record of what was to become the Gallagher Charitable Society is found in the September 15, 1977 issue of Stuff. Stuff was the name of the Saint Joseph’s College student newspaper in 1977. The article states that a group of Gallagher students, watching the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon, got the idea of raising money through the use of a softball marathon. They were Frank Marinaro, Kevin Miller, Jim Pronteau, Mike Fiebelkorn and Chris Bott. Gallagher Hall sponsored the marathon and teams from the College played for 59 innings and raised $300 for the telethon.
That success led to more ambitious planning. Frank Marinaro, Gallagher residence hall governor, led the men of Gallagher Hall in planning “Operation Christmas Basket.” The goal was to provide a Christmas basket for the poor in Jasper County. Fundraising became more ambitious and included College students giving up a meal, fundraising from local businesses, and a floor hockey marathon. The November 10, 1977 issue of Stuff tells of the plan, and the December 8, 1977 issue of Stuff says that they raised $1500 in cash and pledges during a 22-hour floor hockey marathon.
These paired events became the backbone of Gallagher Hall charity. The next year, the men of Gallagher sponsored softball and floor hockey marathons and used other fund drives to raise money for the Jerry Lewis Telethon and what was now an annual Christmas party for the poor children in Jasper County. Bert Vallenkamp, Al Borck, Jim Pronteau and Tom Krodel organized the second annual Christmas party for December 17, 1978 and raised $2100 for the event. In 1979, 500 students gave up their dinner meal. That and a 20 ½ hour floor hockey marathon raised $2500. The rest—as they say—is history.
Several things stand out. Saint Joseph College students made these events happen. They did the organizing, fundraising, and work that turned their ideas into reality. At some point, the Gallagher Hall event became a club named the “Gallagher Charitable Society.” When I entered Gallagher Hall as Priest in Residence in 1988, the men of Gallagher asked me to become the Club’s faculty sponsor. So it was a club by 1988.
My goal has been that this stay a student-run event, so I give only minor advice. I did start the addition of giving used refurbished toys so that the children could get two toys each year, one new and wrapped, and the other a used toy they could select. I find the used toys at many locations, but I am always gratified by the Saint Joseph’s College employees and local residents who bring us toys throughout the year. Professor Allan Broussard helped the Club with fund accounting for a number of years. Otherwise, the students do all of the planning, fundraising, new toy purchasing, gift wrapping, mailings, accounting, and all that goes into the main event, the Christmas party.
There have been ups and downs, but there have been no gaps. Students have always stepped forward to get the job
done. Every year since 1977 there has been a Christmas party for the poor kids of Jasper County. In good years there have also been donations for playground equipment, donations to the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, and food basket deliveries to homes.
The earliest yearbook notice I found on the Gallagher Charitable Society is the 1985 yearbook. It states that Gallagher Hall raised more than $1,800 with the floor hockey marathon and the local Wilco grocery provided chicken dinners for the parents and children who attended the Christmas party. The Gallagher Charitable society has won numerous awards and honors. The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Award (1990) was given to club president Steve James (class of ’91). The Indiana Conference of Higher Education – Indiana Conference Compact for outstanding public service was awarded to Kurt Krouse (Club President 1994-96) in Indianapolis on April 5, 1994. The greatest awards, though, have always been the pride that comes from giving and the grace of seeing the smiles on the faces of the children who had a Christmas with Santa. I know that I have left out many important events and people, so if you can add something to this history, please contact Fr. Stang and send me your information or even pictures.
There have been changes. The effort now is almost totally for the poor of Jasper County. The Student Association now directly funds the event, so some of the fundraisers, like the floor hockey marathon, have faded away. Students from all of the residence halls have become involved. Fundraisers have begun reappearing this year because of a major increase in the number of children planning to come to the event. The Club is still named the “Gallagher Charitable Society,” but the name now honors both the founding residence hall and Bishop Gallagher, former bishop of our diocese. Involved students now come from every residence hall of the College as well as day students. Campus Ministry, C.PP.S. coaches, dining services—even the wife of the SJC President—have pitched in to help make the event a success.
As club president in 2000 & 2001, Tim Clark greatly increased the club’s activities. Calvin Metts & Heather Mikus (presidents 2002-2005) kept up what Tim started. Melinda Maile, Jenna Ketch, and Joel Rice were 2006 chairpersons. In 2007, seniors Kim Klaus and Maggie Hagenauer led Gallagher Charitable Society with help from Joanna Askwith. In 2008, the leaders were Lauren Stoffel and Amy Maile.
Attendance at our Christmas event has grown. From 2001 to 2006, we went from approximately 100 children to 200 children attending. The year 2009 saw 400 people pass through our doors. Games, Santa, and presents have always been part of the event. But Santa now gets a lot of competition from events and an ever-increasing host of “elves.”
Recent years have been blessed with greater participation from the College community. Student volunteers still come forward from every residence hall on campus. The Saint Joseph’s College baseball team, under the leadership of their coach, Rick O’Dette, has become a major supporter of the Christmas party. Students, players, and coaches work as Santa’s elves. Elves run games and activities, hand out books (courtesy of the SJC Education Club) and food baskets, paint faces, keep order (or try to) and give away toys. The picture of the smiling bunch above shows most of this year’s Santa’s helpers. The freshman baseball players are building a tradition of service as the eight famous reindeer plus Rudolf (can you name all eight from Clement Clarke Moore’s Night Before Christmas?). SJC Dining Services offers a nice warm meal just before Santa arrives. College workers and faculty help and we’ve even had the wives of the SJC President and Academic Vice-President help over the years. Fr. Tim McFarland documents the event every year with his camera.
The Rensselaer Community pitches in. Several years ago, two members of the Rensselaer Rotary Club, Mindy Beiers ’96 and Ari Nelson, provided hats and coats for the children. They raised money through the Rensselaer Rotary Club and what has become an annual Run/Walk for Warmth drive held at “24/7 Club Fit” in Rensselaer. Mindy and Rensselaer Rotary have continued the activity. Mindy had help from fellow Rotarian Deanna Nugent ’07 one year (picture right). This is the fourth year Mindy and Rotary raised money for coats, hats, and gloves that were distributed at the party. For some of these children, it is the first time they have had a warm new coat. There were also donors of used toys. I am grateful that so many have stepped forward with donations. Judge Phil and Ellie McGraw; teacher Teresa Massoels; housekeepers Jana Herre and Jeanie Bushman; and Debbie, James, and Austin Davis were major donors of toys in the recent past.
Some years ago, Natalie Jimenez became president of Gallagher Charitable Society. She and other Hispanic students at Saint Joseph’s College made it possible for the Gallagher Charitable Society to better serve our Hispanic neighbors who attend the event. Now all announcements, including the arrival of Santa Claus, are given in both English and Spanish. Natalie handed the reins over to Juan Carlos Rodriguez who, as president, ran the event in 2010 and also recently. Juan built a good team with his vice president Courtney Tam and help from baseball team representatives Colt Smith and Jake Roberts. Natalie Jimenez joins the four of them in the picture on the right.
And so, as has happened every year for more than 30 years, the students, staff and other members of the Saint Joseph’s College Gallagher Charitable Society, gave our less fortunate neighbors a taste of Christmas. They made Christ’s message of giving come alive for themselves and those they served. The children received presents, and coats, and books and cookies and Santa. It was a real Christmas of giving and sharing and cheer. With student leadership and effort Saint Joseph’s College, and the Rensselaer community, showed our neighbors that God loves them and does so through people who care. They carry on a long and proud tradition.
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