Bob Mitchell: Little Joe’s living legacy

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Considerable media attention these days is directed at keeping Ronald McDonald Houses afloat by raising funds for their operation.

Few people today have any idea what part the Little Joe Fund had in making these facilities available in both Springfield and Joplin.

The fund, started in 1955 when Joe Starchman was 6 years old, the fund was designed to ensure medications required for a possible heart-lung transplant for Joe would be available. The required transplants would not be attempted unless the funds were available for transplant recovery.

Despite the amount, $250,000, Cassville interests, started by the late Lige Frost, who had offices with Joe’s father, picked a group to serve as fundraisers and trustees for the eventual fund amount and the push began.

There was a long list of people who assumed various positions in the drive, which quickly spread throughout the region.

Effort caught fire

Over the course of several months, support came from a wide area. Contribution cans popped-up all over the area. Fund efforts and contributions from individuals began to pour into Cassville.

A concern of the effort was quickly closed when Ruby Reese became treasurer, eventually recording each and every contribution that came into the effort. No matter the amount it went into her record book.

To make a list of all the other people involved would now be impossible, but each and everyone of them knows what they did for the Little Joe Fund.

Springfield first

So far as the Ronald McDonald Houses are concerned, Springfield was the first to benefit from the fund.

When the fund had reached the goal amount, it was quickly invested in certificates of deposits with local banks. At that time, financial institutions were paying a substantial interest rate, which quickly increased the total funds to nearly $300,000.

Trustee decisions at the time included recognition of the Springfield house with a contribution since media and individuals in that area had contributed greatly to the fundraising effort.

The people in charge of the Ronald McDonald House had set the amount to provide a bedroom in the facility at $25,000, which was presented by Joe during groundbreaking activities near Cox Hospital. For this grant, a plaque eventually was placed on the door recognizing the funding coming from Little Joe Transplant Fund, Cassville, Mo.

Joplin was next

Joplin’s corporate organization got into the act next with intentions to construct a Ronald McDonald House and contacted the Little Joe trustees concerning possible participation in this project. It wasn’t quite as smooth an operation as the first one was, but both interests moved through the procedure to make it possible.

For some unknown reason, the second project was slightly more expensive.

Project procedures

For those not familiar with Ronald McDonald Houses, they are constructed in proximity with hospitals to provide housing for families that have a juvenile in the hospital for an extended period of health care. There is no charge for the housing, but people have been known to make a contribution to the program for the convenience of the location near their family member.

Complete existence is provided by the facilities. Families have been known to cooperate with meal preparation and other involvements during their stay in the facilities.

These two facilities were the final large projects handled by the Little Joe Fund.

Change of purpose

Joe Starchman was 6 years old when the fund began. He lived another 10 years, not receiving the surgery for which the fund was intended. However, there were about six other procedures funded during those years between the first year and 1966 just after Joe had reached 16 years of age.

On his passing, trustees amended the tax-free status of the fund from youthful transplants to included college scholarships, which were open to all six high schools in Barry County.

During the early days of this practice, as many as 16 scholarships were awarded annually in the amount of $1,000 each. Despite the availability of this award, there were times years ago when some schools would have no applicants for the funds.

Since the outset of the fund, applications for medical assistance fell to zero, probably due to the requirement that no participation would be forthcoming until all insurance coverage had been exhausted.

Funds transferred

Several years ago, the remaining funds, not producing much interest income, were transferred the Ozarks Foundation, which now invests the remaining funds and provides what ever is required by the trustees to continue the college scholarships to high school seniors in the county.

Off the spike

Between now and the next column date, there are a couple of events that deserve mentioning.

First is St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, which will require locating my Jim Kirkpatrick campaign Shamrock button, which naturally is Green, and thus avoiding a pinch from anyone.

Next Wednesday is the long-awaited arrival of the first day of spring, that’s March 20. Since the opening of Roaring River State Park didn’t bring spring, perhaps this will.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.