Bob Mitchell: "The Little Joe Transplant Fund"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Little Joe Transplant Fund started in 1984, when Lige Frost came to me with the idea of raising $250,000 needed for his business neighbor's 6-year-old son to receive a heart and lung transplant due to physical conditions.

The situation had been diagnosed at several children's hospitals. Before the procedure, it was required that funds were in place for the operation and the proper medications.

This was the requirement at several hospitals visited by the Starchman family, including Joe and his parents, John and Judie Starchman.

Frost had a trustee group already in mind, which included myself, Clell Wade, Jim Craig, Richard Carney and Harold Reese. They were to guide the efforts with Ruby Reese serving as treasurer. Most recent trustees have included: in addition to myself and Jim Craig as originals, Phil Hutchens, Charli Jo Ledgerwood and Paul Strahl.

Cassville first grader

Joe, a Cassville first-grader, was one of the greatest assets to the effort. He was a vibrant youngster who might play a trick on you if someone wasn't aware of his nature.

He lived a fairly regular life, frequently going to hospitals for medical care or for examination toward the possible surgeries. The final decision on location was probably Pittsburgh. He went there several times as doctors studied his case frequently.

Growing fund

From the outset, the fund grew with interest coming from a wide area. Announcement of the opening of the fund attracted media from a wide area, arriving with their trucks, helicopters and such. At one point of the news effort, Joe's parents were being interviewed as he and I sat in another room of the Cassville Elementary School.

Joe was taking all this in and looked up at me and asked, "Bob, am I famous?"

When the fund drive was under way, one of the most valuable people was Cecilia Miller, who coordinated many efforts and programs with receipts going to the fund. Mrs. Miller's efforts contributed so much to the fund it would be difficult to cover it all.

During the fund raising, any contribution, no matter how small, was recorded by Mrs. Reese. Her record book, so complete down to the penny, is now in the possession of a current trustee, Charli Jo Ledgerwood.

Containers for contributions at business locations were in place as far away as Lamar and reached into Arkansas.

My cousin, the late Kathryn Owens of St. Louis, had several of her groups and others make contributions to the fund.

This effort was just one of those contagious efforts that spread quickly.

Finally, with a $50,000 boost by Farmers Insurance, the company represented by John Starchman in this area, the Little Joe Transplant Fund reached the $250,000 mark and was discontinued. Even after stopping, contributions continued to come in and containers were retrieved from their locations.

Joe's condition

Joe passed away at age 16, the fund paid expenses for him and his family to make trips to Pittsburgh and St. Louis, where he was sometimes treated. All of the family's expenses were paid through trustee approval. The officials even included a listed expense of a soft drink during one of the trips.

Joe's passing left the trustees with the problem of what to do with the fund, which had eventually grown to more than $300,000, due to the interest investments in local banks. At that time, some of the investments were receiving 7 percent interest -- something unheard of these days.

With Mrs. Reese's retirement from the fund, Dan Angle became the treasurer. In this job, he accounted for funds and paid bills.

The decision

Trustees, now including Phil Hutchens and Charli Jo Ledgerwood, made the decision on fund future to make it available to area youths requiring transplant surgery of most kinds. The fund normally paid most of the charges, above insurance coverage held by the patient, for these projects. Several thousands of dollars were expended in about six cases.

When the requests for transplant projects apparently dried-up, trustees made the decision to request from Internal Revenue Department to amend the 501C not-for-profit corporation's charter to include paying for college scholarships. The approval was received by the fund's attorney, Jim LeCompte.

Initial scholarship offering was $500 to approved Barry County seniors. Later years saw this figure increased to $100,000 in two payments, for tuition only, going to the college registrar.

Much education

Since the college decision was made, there was one request for medical assistance and that project received a $5,000 grant. In addition, approximately $20,000 each went to Springfield and Joplin Ronald McDonald Houses. This project was in appreciation of efforts received from these communities and to make the services available to local families with children in the facilities at those locations.

To be continued.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.