More than 20 years ago a brutal Valentine’s Day ice storm shuttered Washington. However, the crippling ice that closed the capital opened a new world of volunteering for then-active duty U.S. Navy Commander Ken Via — the opportunity to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Via, in Washington for a meeting, awoke that morning to a local country music station broadcasting a Country Cares for St. Jude Kids ® radiothon. As he listened to the stories and the requests for donations, he was acutely aware of the need to help children fighting illness and disease. Only weeks earlier, Via had learned that his 18-month old niece and 3-year-old nephew had been diagnosed with Celiac disease and juvenile diabetes, respectively.
Later that day, he made his way to a nearby mall for lunch. Also at the mall was the radiothon he had heard broadcasting that morning.
“Call it fate, but I thought of my niece and nephew who were not critically ill at that point compared to what the kids at St. Jude were going through,” Via said. “But it still reminded me that kids come first, and I made a walk-up donation to St. Jude.”
Later that year the 21-year career naval officer retired and, after returning to the D.C. area, responded to a request to join a “Friend of St. Jude” volunteer group to support local fundraising events. Since then, he’s committed himself fully to helping St. Jude in dozens of ways large and small.
“My volunteering with St. Jude has definitely been a constant and ‘all-in’ from the start,” he said. “I embraced the opportunity with vigor and the pleasant realization I was guided to use my spare time helping make a difference in the life of a sick child.”
That dedication pushed him to help lead volunteers for radiothons, galas, golf tournaments, walk/runs, marathons, bowl-a-thons, wine tastings and more, and in 2008 Via was named St. Jude Volunteer of the Year. He carries that same zeal and drive to support St. Jude to this day.
For Via, being a St. Jude volunteer is now an integral part of his life.
“I have been to St. Jude three times, each time an uplifting heartfelt experience,” he said. “There is no greater feeling or love for oneself than to know that what takes a few moments of our busy lives can have the greatest potential to make a huge difference in someone’s life, in this case the life of a sick child and a family struggling for a cure and the hope for a normal life.”