For Mike Harper and the community of Minden, Louisiana, supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is personal.
“We’re not a large town, so people know each other,” Harper said of the 13,000 people who call Minden home. “In some way or another, everybody’s lives have been touched by St. Jude. I wish I could put my finger on the magic, because it would be wonderful if other communities could do it to the extent we do.”
The Minden St. Jude Auction began 40 years ago as a one-day radiothon that raised $10,000. Now, the four-day event is locally televised, broadcast on radio and streamed online, raising more than $1.4 million this year. The event, held February 4 – 7, has raised more than $15.3 million for St. Jude in its history.
Harper, 65, became involved in the late 1980s, when his car dealership donated a truck for the auction’s grand prize. He's seen the auction grow into a community festival that also features a Kid’s Day, a bass-fishing tournament, the Louisiana State Championship Chili Cook-off and the Minden Run for St. Jude.
Until they figure out a way to eliminate childhood cancer, I would fully expect the Minden Auction to be here to support St. Jude until the day comes that it is not needed.
Harper’s own role in the auction also grew over the years, and from 1996 to 2001 he was chairman of the event. Now, he claims emeritus status, and says he serves as a stage manager of sorts.
“I know there are other facilities, and wonderful facilities, but there’s only one St. Jude,” Harper said. “I just do it because it helps people. It helps families.”
Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since it opened in 1962, and Harper said he knows St. Jude won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.
“Until they figure out a way to eliminate childhood cancer, I would fully expect the Minden Auction to be here to support St. Jude until the day comes that it is not needed,” he said.
Harper has visited St. Jude several times and each time comes away more impressed than ever by what St. Jude does for its patients.
“I have a 2-year-old granddaughter, and the very thought of her being sick and having some form of cancer scares me to death,” Harper said. “I’m comforted by the fact that — God forbid, should that happen — there is a wonderful place with great hope that she could go to.”