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Elias Skovron was 22 years old when two people he had never met saved his life.
In 1938 he was desperately trying to leave war-torn Poland. His aunt applied for him to receive an American visa. But the visa was turned down – a death sentence for a young Jewish man in Nazi-occupied Poland. But Skovron's aunt did not give up.
She talked to John J. Gore, a federal judge who knew U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Gore wrote to Hull, and Skovron's visa was approved. It was an act of kindness that Skovron never forgot.
After coming to America, Skovron served in the army. During World War II, he lost all of his immediate family except for his oldest brother. Later, Skovron became a furrier in a local fur specialty shop. He married his love, Rachel, and enjoyed a life that he felt fortunate to have, thanks to people he had not personally known.
Now 90 years old, Skovron is helping save the lives of children he has never met. Since 1970, he has helped fund research that allows St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to find cures for pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
Skovron became a Danny Thomas fan after meeting the comedian in a night club in the 1940s. Years later, he saw Thomas on television talking about his vow to St. Jude Thaddeus and his plan to build a hospital for children with deadly illnesses. "The idea struck me, and I was very much interested in it," Skovron says.
In 1996 he visited St. Jude for the first time since the 1960s. It was an emotional period, as he was mourning the loss of Rachel.
"I am still convinced that my visit to the hospital at that time did a lot more for me than anything I could have contributed to the hospital," Skovron says. "You are so depressed, and you think the world is coming to an end when you lose someone you have been married to for 45 years. But the visit did a lot for me. I was ashamed about being depressed. It seems like I was there just at the right time."
Re-energized, Skovron again counted his blessings and has sought to enjoy life to its fullest. One way he does that is by skiing. Skovron takes an annual ski trip to an area near Aspen, Colorado. For his 90th birthday, his favorite ski resort held a celebration for him. "They gave me a birthday party I will never forget as long as I live, and I hope it's going to be a long time," Skovron laughs.
Skovron has put St. Jude in his estate plans and has established gift annuities with ALSAC, the hospital's fund-raising arm. He knows his gifts are helping to save the lives of children and families around the world that he will never know.
"It gives me more pleasure than you can imagine," Skovron says about giving to St. Jude. "It is really helping to give someone a gift of life."