The Bob Michel Bridge is a four-lane stretch of road roughly half a mile long spanning the Illinois River in Peoria, Illinois. On August 2, about 3,000 runners converged on that bridge for the final leg of the 34th annual St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run, an event that transforms Peoria into a fundraising hub for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The runners crossed the bridge and ran through cheering crowds into the Peoria Civic Center to begin an evening-long telethon and fundraising celebration that brought out hundreds of St. Jude supporters in addition to the 120 VIPs who answered the phones. Each VIP committed to raising $1,000 for St. Jude.
This year’s event raised $9.1 million for St. Jude; $4.5 million of that total came from the run itself and the various satellite runs. Over the years, the run has raised more than $40 million for the hospital.
John Kocher, co-chair of the telethon committee with his wife, Dawn, spoke glowingly of Peoria’s widespread passion for St. Jude. Events for St. Jude take place year-round in Peoria and are celebrated at the annual telethon.
"There is a large grassroots effort here for St. Jude and the children impacted with childhood diseases," Kocher said.
The telethon, started 38 years ago by the late Peoria mayor Jim Maloof, also aired St. Jude patient stories. The last hour of the six-hour telethon focused on area teenagers and their success in raising funds and awareness for St. Jude.
"It’s not just fundraising, they are also advocating for St. Jude," Kocher said of the teens. "We’re trying to promote lifetime supporters of St. Jude and the mission to eradicate childhood cancer."
The telethon has grown to include a satellite location in Bloomington, Illinois, where another 60 VIPs took donations over the phone.
Peoria is home to St. Jude’s first affiliate clinic, which opened in 1972. Peoria County Sheriff Michael D. McCoy and Gene Pratt started the St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run in 1982 to support St. Jude. In addition to the run from Memphis, there were 38 satellite runs from other cities, mostly in Illinois.