Northbrook, IL - - Last November, early morning visitors to downtown Northbrook were treated to a striking sight. Twelve-year-old Charlie Chemers, clad in a baseball cap and a purple Rolfe Foundation DASH for Detection t-shirt, was leading a group of 70 friends, neighbors and family members on a charity walk to benefit early detection pancreatic cancer research. With Charlie at the helm, the sizable party smiled, greeted pedestrians, and - for the most part - clutched matching lavender balloons.
The walk, dubbed United in Purple, was Charlie’s mitzvah project – a charitable act invoking the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam (“fixing the world”) that many young Jewish boys and girls undertake on their road to the Bema. He organized it in honor of his grandfather, Gary Schwartz, who had been battling pancreatic cancer since a diagnosis in January of 2015.
“Right away, as soon as Charlie became aware he’d have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, he knew this would be his cause [...]”
“Right away, as soon as Charlie became aware he’d have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, he knew this would be his cause,” recalled Charlie’s mother, Dena, when discussing the walk recently. “We participated in the Rolfe Foundation’s 2015 DASH for Detection, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We have friends who have been very involved with the Foundation, and Charlie was really struck by the DASH’s purpose and spirit. When it came time for his mitzvah, he decided to emulate it, and to support Rolfe’s work.”
With his family behind him, Charlie got industrious. He designed a route for a two-mile walk and proceeded to put the word out about United in Purple, sending numerous email invitations to friends and family. He asked each participant for a modest donation of $5 per person. Many gave much more.
When the walk concluded, Charlie presented an oversized check totaling $2,155 to representatives of the Rolfe Foundation – a number that would balloon to $2,800 as donations continued to come in following the event. Charlie posed for a picture in the local Northbrook newspaper as his mother and sister looked on proudly. And his grandfather, the guest of honor, beamed.
“There are some days in your life you’ll never forget,” observed Ms. Chemers recently. “It was such a special display of love, and of heart. My dad wasn’t in great shape at the time, and we all sort of felt he might not be around much longer, but he was able to make it to the walk. And he was in great spirits. It was very special for all of us.”
Sadly, only two days following the walk, Mr. Schwartz’s health declined. He was admitted to the hospital on November 9th, and passed away eleven days later.
Since the race, school and sports have occupied much of Charlie’s time. He’s a voracious reader who adores non-fiction, a center on his school’s football squad, and a diehard fan of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning (his mother says he predicted Mr. Manning’s Superbowl win at the start of the 2015 season). But his grandfather is, unsurprisingly, never far from his thoughts.
At a recent visit to Mr. Schwartz’s resting place, Ms. Chemers noticed her son carrying the pamphlet to his grandfather’s funeral in his jacket pocket. It had become a totem, Charlie explained. Something he always kept with him.
November 2016 may be a ways away, but Charlie is already planning a repeat walk. In fact, he and his family want to establish it as an annual tradition. “November is pancreatic cancer awareness month, of course,” offers Ms. Chemers. “And we want to keep doing these walks not just to honor my dad, but to hopefully make an impact in the lives of other pancreatic cancer patients, and to further raise awareness of the disease itself.”
If you’re interested in supporting the Chemers family and their efforts, they encourage you to check the Rolfe Foundation’s Community Events page, where information about the walk will be shared as it becomes available.
And should you be able to participate, and you’d like to say hello to Charlie, and to commend him on his good work – look for him towards the front of the group. He’ll be the one taking point, leading the charge.
Published: March 15th, 2016
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This article also appears as part of the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s
electronic newsletter, The Catalyst (Vol. 2, March 2015 - the profiles issue). To
read more dispatches from The Catalyst, please click the links below.