Annual cancer telethon raises record $250K
Cancer telethon host Joe Krushinsky looks at the total presented by Mary Ann Dulaney and Jess Kutza from the Chinese auction. See photo gallery at tnonline.com CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Dave Freeman, left, traveled from Florida to fill in at the Cancer Telethon for Bud Wychulis, who is battling cancer. Other members of the house band are Damian and Ivan Munoz, known as The Ambassadors and Vicki Willman. Tributes to Wychulis are on the wall behind Freeman. MARTA GOUGER/TIMES NEWS
The 2019 Cancer Telethon set a new record. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Many people turned out for the 40th American Cancer Society Telethon this weekend, but their minds were on their missing host and keyboard player Bud Wychulis.
Wychulis, diagnosed with a type of leukemia last year, has been undergoing treatment and has developed complications, telethon host Joe Krushinsky announced.
Throughout the day Saturday, Krushinsky and hosts tiptoed around the issue, saying Wychulis was under the weather and other terms to avoid saying the one word they are fighting. Before the telethon reopened Sunday, Wychulis reached out and said, “Not one person said I have cancer. I have cancer with complications.”
Emotions ran high through the two-day telethon. By midnight Sunday a new record had been set: $250,334, up from last year’s record of $224,254.
People reminisced about the early years, and late in the telethon, Krushinsky even pulled out a sweater he wore on the telethon in the ’80s after a donation challenge.
But one by one telethon performers voiced support and prayers for their longtime friend and mentor.
Former telethon performer Dave Freeman packed his keyboard and drove from Florida on Friday just to “hold Bud’s spot open” for next year.
He got the request to play from Krushinsky last Monday.
“We’re all busy,” the former Palmerton resident said, but when he found out what was happening, he canceled weekend gigs and answered the call.
“You just do what you have to do,” Freeman said.
Freeman, who has lost relatives to cancer, was hit hard when his daughter Alyssa died in May 2017 of a drug overdose.
He met Wychulis when he was 17.
“Bud is an important person to me. He taught me a lot of things I needed to know. He was like a surrogate father to me.”
He added that coming to the telethon reminds him of the ACS slogan, “People you know helping people you know.”
“You never know when you have a chance to help other people.”
Telethon staple Danny Farole got choked up when he talked about Wychulis.
“When I am with him, I can conquer Mount Vesuvius. I know I can’t make a mistake, He’ll cover me.
“He truly is the brother I lost,” Farole said.
Throughout the weekend, people were invited to pledge in Bud’s honor. For each pledge, a picture of Bud would be posted on the wall behind the keyboard area.
Brothers Damian and Ivan Munoz formed the house band, the Ambassadors, and worked closely with Wychulis through the entire telethon. Like others, they started slowly with a simple set, but Wychulis drew them into the whole weekend, and they learned from him.
Ivan Munoz called it the School of Bud.
“He provided so much help for everyone. Truly, I don’t know how we can pay him back.
Damian Munoz agreed.
“Bud is our incredible mentor. He’s the George Martin to our Paul McCartney.”
Not only did Wychulis encourage them to play the Beatles tunes, but he introduced them to the world of the Everly Brothers.
Another telethon regular, Dr. Amy Depuy, was added to the list of cancer fighters this year. At age 39, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy.
Krushinsky interviewed her briefly on the telethon.
“I am not a victim,” Depuy said. “I am a person who happens to have cancer.”
Depuy stressed the need to remain positive. A Disney fan, she quoted the fish Dory from “Finding Nemo,” who said, “When life gets you down, wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
Awards and fundraising
One of the telethon highlights is the presentation Sunday night of the Courage awards. This year the recipients were Bill Berger of Jim Thorpe, who has been diagnosed with carcinoid cancer and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma; Belinda Fenstermaker of Lehighton; Jamie Solomon of Jim Thorpe, who was diagnosed in 2018 with an invasive form of breast cancer; and Anita Stevens of Jim Thorpe, a mother of five who was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer on Aug. 4, 2016.
This weekend kicked off the 40th anniversary year of the telethon, which began as a Tamaqua Area High School project. George Taylor, who works behind the scenes now, was the media adviser at the school, which had a basic black-and-white studio.
“I thought a telethon would be a great way to teach the kids and develop community rapport,” Taylor said. “I know we had the kids, thought we had the talent, and we certainly had the support of the administration.”
That first telethon was 12 hours, ending at midnight on Sunday. It was a school night but they worked out the details. That first year they raised $1,500.
“We were overjoyed by that,” Taylor said.
After a few years, Pat Houghton, then director of the American Cancer Society Carbon-Tamaqua Unit, talked them into going full-scale.
The district is still very involved in fundraising. This year Steve Ulicny presented a check for $5,000 from band and school fundraisers.
Lehighton Area Middle School raised $2,900.
Tamaqua’s East End Fire Company, American Hose Company and Notre Dame Club brought a combined total of $12,117.
The society’s annual Chinese auction raised $30,100 this year, and Zoostock, which ended a 20-year run last year, contributed $22,500.
This year the cancer society’s Labor Day event will be called LOCStock and will include a raft race.