ALSAC: Grounded in Gratitude

The ALSAC/St. Jude Board outside hospital in 1963.

When Danny Thomas approached Americans of Arab descent with his dream of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he wasn’t just a nationally-known entertainer. He had already been chosen as Lebanese of the Century by the Arabic-speaking people of America.

At the time, Thomas asked with characteristic humility, “Why me?” and was told that the award recognized his show business success and his pride in his heritage. Thomas decided that he would truly earn the award by uniting second‑ and third-generation Americans of Arabic-speaking heritage in a cause larger than themselves. That cause was the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), formed to raise the money needed to build St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and then meet the ongoing operating expenses of St. Jude. Thomas estimated that it would cost $1 million to build the hospital and $300,000 a year to maintain.

About 100 leaders answered Thomas’ call and attended the Oct. 10, 1957, meeting at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago where ALSAC was officially formed. The Preamble to the Constitution of ALSAC says, in part, that this nonprofit, non-sectarian, charitable corporation is "dedicated to the parable of the 'Good Samaritan' to love and care for our neighbor, regardless of color or creed. This dedication shall manifest itself in the maintenance of St. Jude Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, which, in turn, is dedicated to the cure of leukemia and related blood diseases in children, absolutely free. In so doing, we shall serve God and Our Country and we shall serve the good names of our fathers and mothers who made possible our birth in America, the land of the free."

This all-volunteer group operated at the members’ own expense that first year and received a $25,000 operating budget at the 1958 ALSAC convention, where Thomas asked Indianapolis candy wholesaler Mike Tamer to stay on as national director of ALSAC. Each year, Tamer agreed to stay on “just one more year.” And he did so every year until his death in 1974.

Today, ALSAC’s full-time staff of approximately 1,200, headed by President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Shadyac Jr., coordinates the fundraising activities of the more than 1 million volunteers and 9 million donors who support the hospital each year. ALSAC operations are overseen by its Board of Directors, who are also the same volunteers serving as the St. Jude Board of Governors.