For Isabel and Michael Dill of Rutland, Ohio, a two-decade fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital began with a leisurely afternoon trail ride.
On that afternoon 21 years ago, Isabel Dill, the horse lover in the family, was riding her horse with a riding club when a friend asked if she would coordinate a Saddle Up for St. Jude event on her family farm. She didn’t hesitate.
“I was so excited to be able to help out,” Dill said.
For the first five years, the event had modest attendance and moderate fundraising success. Mostly, everyone had fun, she said. The event even gave the Dills a common horse experience to bond over.
“My husband is not a horse person at all,” said Isabel Dill. “Now I couldn’t do it without him. He is such a big part of the ride now and loves helping the kids. He always says if it just helps one kid it’s worth it all.”
What began as just a few riders and the help of four or five friends has grown into an event with more than 200 registered participants and an event crew of nearly 30 family, friends and neighbors. Some donate money, drinks or baked goods. Others help clean the trails and prepare the Dill farm for what’s become a big homecoming party. Participants begin arriving a day or two before the ride to camp and catch up, she said, with riders coming from throughout southern Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
The 10-mile trail ride, the third Saturday in September with a rain date the following weekend, begins on the Dills’ 80-acre farm located in southeastern Ohio and traverses the farms of 15 neighbors. Following the ride, participants gather back at the Dill Farm for a hog roast and meal and recognition of the top fundraisers.
This past year’s ride raised $18,836, bringing the 21-year event total to more than $250,000. Those funds help ensure that families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
“We hope that one day our kids will take over and keep it going for years,” Isabell Dill said. “We just love St. Jude and we thank the Lord that we are able to help out.”