One of Jim Thorpe's most popular residents was honored Saturday as hundreds gathered to help raise money for her battle with cancer.
The Chinese auction, which took place at Jim Thorpe's Memorial Hall, was surprisingly, also a surprise for Peggy Sue O'Donnell.
"Peggy Sue is like the unofficial mayor of this town," said her roommate Shari Beers.
"She is a fixture in this town. Always involved in something," said Kathi McCauley, one of the people who worked tirelessly to bring Saturday's event to fruition.
O'Donnell is also known as the "Jim Thorpe UPS lady." In her almost 25 years with UPS she has in some way or another touched most of the more than 700 people who showed up at Memorial Hall Saturday evening to show her their support.
Diagnosed with head and neck cancer earlier this year, O'Donnell has since undergone surgery on the lymph nodes in her neck and has endured two, eight-week courses of chemotherapy and radiation.
"The treatment has left her weakened and has compromised her immune system," says Beers. "She has sores in her mouth and throat and it is hard for her to speak and to eat.
"It has been a long journey; she has such a positive outlook. She is determined to follow everything to a tee. She is a fighter, one tough little lady," said Beers. "This whole experience has made a lot of people stop and take a look at their lives. If this could happen to Peggy Sue, it could happen to anyone."
The idea for the Chinese auction and raffle came from Dave Herring, a fellow driver at UPS in Hometown. Herring wanted to do something for O'Donnell, whom he has known for 25 years and whom he considers one of his best friends.
"Her friends and the people whom she delivers to for UPS wanted to do something to show her how much they care and how important she is to us," said Herring.
"It really started out small, just at work. Myself, Joey and Linda Petrole, Karen and Bob Williamson, Jackie McCarthy, Chrissy Estremera and Raeanne Whitaker, we all just started putting something together. Then Kathi McCauley, who knows Peggy Sue from her route, got involved and put the thing on Facebook and bang, it took on a life of its own.
"We were originally planning on having it at the New Columbia Fire House, but we quickly outgrew that," added Herring.
The sentiments regarding O'Donnell were repeated again and again throughout the afternoon, as volunteers set up for the event, and again, as the event was under way.
"Peggy Sue is just awesome," said McCauley. "She is bubbly I swear she hops around like the energizer bunny."
"Peggy Sue is one of the brightest people I have ever met. Always pleasant and smiling and never a bad word about anybody; and I have known her since she was a kid. Her whole family is like that," was the sentiment of Dr. Clem McGinley, a friend and member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Alec Campbell, Carbon County chapter. Many of the members of the AOH were on hand to honor O'Donnell.
There were approximately 400 baskets and gift cards donated for the event. The grand prizes were a set of luggage, box seats to the Philadelphia 76ers and a beautiful etching by local artist, David Watkins Price, as well as a traditional 50/50, that raised well over $1,500.
"This has been a total success," said Herring. "The donations poured in from all over, even people on my route in the Cunningham and Drums area donated to the cause. Just look at all the baskets."
The New Columbus Fire House cooked and sold food at the event. Most of the food was purchased with a donation from the local Jimmy Buffet community service group, the Black Diamond Parrothead Club.
"We were sold out of food by 7 p.m.," said Fire Chief Jim Nardozzi, who also said all of the profits from the sale of food would be donated to O'Donnell as well.
"I have known Peggy Sue for 20 years or so, and I can tell you if it were the other way around, she would be there for me, she would be there for all these people," said Nardozzi.
Many of O'Donnell's family were present as well.
"I can't believe this; I am overwhelmed with emotion in the outpouring of love and support for mom. It is just overwhelming. I appreciate everyone's support to benefit my mom," said O'Donnell's daughter Keri LeClair.
"We are speechless," was the sentiment shared by Beers, who also spoke about the important part that O'Donnell's friends, family and customers have played in her recovery.
"We received enough cards that we could open a Hallmark store," said Beers. "It got to the point where we looked forward to getting the mail every day. Every card was a word of encouragement for her. The worst part for Peggy Sue has been that she can't be with people because of the fear of her getting sick and not being able to speak," said Beers.
Beers also spoke to the negative side of getting the mail.
"There are bills in the mail every day now also. I know this is getting her down. Peggy Sue has always been diligent about paying her bills and that is something she just can't do right now," said Beers.
There have also been mistakes, overbilling and double billing, prompting Beers to consider working as an advocate for others with similar medical issues.
"If there is one thing I have learned throughout this ordeal, it is has been to check every medical bill carefully before you pay it," she warned.
Also attending Saturday's event were Nathan and Kayla Holod of Reading. Holod is Peggy Sue's boss at UPS.
"This is reassuring to see that one of my drivers is going above and beyond and having such an impact on her customers, and obviously making a difference in their daily lives. Peggy Sue has a job waiting for her and we are looking forward to her coming back she will always have a job with UPS," said Holod.
Touted as a "Surprise Chinese Auction" for O'Donnell, the organizers were able to promote it on Facebook because O'Donnell does not use the social media site, and rarely uses a computer.
When entering Memorial Hall Saturday night, she was under the impression she was attending a Celtic music concert. Upon hearing Buddy Holly's immortal tune, "Peggy Sue" blasting from the loudspeakers, she knew she'd been duped.
O'Donnell was pretty much speechless Saturday night. She was better able to express herself the following afternoon.
"I kept my composure during the event, but I cried plenty when I got home," she said.
"Cancer changes everybody. I knew I had good friends and I consider everyone in this town and on my route, my friend, but the outpouring, the more than 400 baskets, my shopkeepers from downtown I was just in awe.
"Last night people were coming up to me and telling me that they have been praying for me; to me that is like getting a slip a paper from the doc telling you you're clear. That's what that means to me."
"Not talking has been an issue for me. When I work I don't take my lunch hour because I am so busy talking with the people on my route, that takes my lunch time, that's how I want it. I love these people, I love this town."
O'Donnell also talked about her future.
"When I retire I am planning on being the town greeter. I am going to stand in front of Highland Beverage (on Route 209 at the entrance to town) and wave to each and every person entering Jim Thorpe," said O'Donnell.
And while it is clear that O'Donnell misses the people on her route, she admits that she misses 'her' dogs the most. Over the next week O'Donnell and Beers plan to drive the route, delivering biscuits to her canine customers, most of whom she has known since they are puppies.
While a complete count wasn't yet available at press time, according to Herring the event raised about $14,000 to $15,000, all of which was given directly to O'Donnell.