In her nearly 60 years with Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Nancy Cameron has seen — and done — a lot.
Down to walking a dog in a snowstorm for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Ask the native Coloradoan how that all came about, and she will tell you it started with her three older sisters.
Nancy joined them as a member of ESA, a leadership service organization. For Nancy and her sisters, ESA — established in 1929 first as a book club — was a way to connect and have fun while doing good for others, including a fairly new hospital in Memphis treating children with cancer and other devastating illnesses.
In 1972, the hospital’s founder, Danny Thomas, reached out with a personal appeal to ESA International asking the organization to support his dream and help ensure no child die in the dawn of life.
Since that time, ESA has helped raise more than $250 million in cash and pledges for St. Jude. Nancy has been instrumental in much of that fundraising success, although her modesty won’t let her take credit for any of it.
“There is no secret other than longevity,” said Nancy, a spritely octogenarian known for wearing snazzy caps. “I’ve just stuck around long enough to experience it all.”
Describing her family as “dyed-in-the-wool ESAers,” Nancy has made it her mission to share St. Jude with as many people as possible. That includes her daughter, who followed in Nancy’s footsteps as the ESA state president for Colorado. Nancy also started the Utah chapter of ESA.
So devoted is Nancy to the kids of St. Jude she has taken part in practically every event and campaign in Colorado. “I’m pretty gung-ho about St. Jude,” Nancy laughed.
First there was Captured for Kids, an erstwhile program in which a do-gooder was taken into custody until friends raised enough in donations to spring them from confinement.
Nancy continued volunteering, this time with KYGO, a Country station that held its first radiothon for St. Jude in 1992. They raised $36,168 that first year; 26 years later, the crew, led by DJ Paul Donovan, brought in $318,640 for St. Jude.
Then came Walkin’ the Dog, a fundraising dog-walk in Denver’s Washington Park, complete with police canine meet-and-greets, flying-disc demonstrations and a costume contest — Little Bo Peep and her flock of little white Shih Tzus were always a big hit, Nancy said. Then there was the year of the freak September snowstorm.
“The dogs loved it,” Nancy recalled. “The people weren’t too happy about it.”
She’s got plenty more memories in that vein, including the time a $50 donation was secured for Walk a Mile for Danny’s Kids. In pennies.
“That had to be at least 20 pounds,” Nancy marveled. “But every little bit helps.”
After decades of volunteering for St. Jude, it was only a matter of time before Nancy got to visit the research hospital she had been singing the praises of for so long. Seeing St. Jude firsthand did not disappoint.
“With hospitals, you prepare yourself for the worst,” Nancy said. “Then you get there, and there’s such happiness: kids grinning, kids in treatment happy. It is just amazing St. Jude had the forethought and vision to make this wonderful concept a reality, down to the little red wagons.”
Of all the volunteering Nancy has taken part in for St. Jude, the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway may be her lasting legacy. She has led the effort from the beginning and in true Nancy fashion, has done it all, from setting up the raffle and managing the open houses to answering phones. Nancy recalled year two of the Giveaway, when in the eleventh month of 2011, 11,000 tickets were sold. Such symmetry isn’t lost on Nancy, who is still blown away by their ability to raise such a large amount of money for St. Jude.
Nancy was named Volunteer of the Year in 2012 by ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, 40 years after Danny Thomas reached out to ESA.
“I feel so honored to have the opportunity to be involved in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Nancy said. “In a way, being recognized feels like cheating for doing something I love to do.”
Nancy, who has dedicated most of her adult life to St. Jude, shows no signs of slowing down. Not when there are still sick children in need of help.
The Denver Dream Home campaign recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary and was honored by ALSAC as the St. Jude Dream Home Campaign of the Year for 2020.
Even now, with the pandemic halting in-person activities everywhere for everyone, the Denver St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway — and Nancy — are still going strong.
“I just announce that I’m gonna do it and I do it,” Nancy said. “I tell my husband no dinner on the table tonight, I’m working.”