Saturday, January 22, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Serious business at the fun table


Three women sit at the corner table in Star Bar on Ingersoll. All blonde. All laughing. All comfortable in their skin. Periodically, they lean in to each other conspiratorially, then rock back in a whoosh of hilarity at some clever story or phrase or memory. Obviously, the fun table.

Samantha, 17 years old, diagnosed with leukemia.  

The fun table? You know what I’m talking about. You go to a wedding reception or a class reunion or a graduation party and there’s a fun table. And not just “ha-ha” fun. I’m talking about people who enjoy each other’s company. The only ego on display is the one who can entertain the others long enough to make them laugh or make them cry. And the more you can make fun of yourself, the better. It’s not complex. It’s why we all want to sit at the fun table.

Bradley, 4 years old, diagnosed with cancer. 

So, I sat down with the three women — Linda Frazier, Denise Sullivan and Holly Novelli. All work full-time, all have kids, all are grandmas.joes1


“We are a very quiet and humble group,” says Linda. Laughter all around.

“I know it’s hard to believe,” Linda smiles, “but we aren’t special in doing what we do.” And then all three women chime in chorus, “ We just do what we do.”

More laughter.

OK, fine, I’ve stumbled across a group of crazy women.  What are they up to?

Alice, 3 years old, diagnosed in March 2015, with neuroblastoma. 

Linda explains. “Angels for Sam was actually started in 2007 by my sisters and me and some family and friends. Our brother has a daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia and people didn’t know what to do. So, we gathered. We knew that her treatment was going to take about two-and-one-half years and knew that money would obviously be of benefit to them. So we just started brainstorming. My niece’s name is Samantha. So we came up with ‘Angels for Sam.’ That’s how we were born.”

Ava, 5 years old, diagnosed with leukemia in 2012.

“Our first event was a motorcycle ride. Some friends who came said they rode motorcycles. They said we should do a benefit motorcycle ride. None of us rode a bike. We got flyers and went to Trophy’s Bar and handed out flyers. A gentleman there said he could help us. His name is Clem Vestal. ‘I’ll get you donations. I’ll get you blockers.’ He left, and we said, ‘What’s a blocker?’ We didn’t have a clue. He organized that event for us. We had one bus for those who didn’t have a ride — for us actually — and 65 motorcycles showed up.”

Macy, 3 years old, diagnosed with leukemia in 2014. 

Denise, Linda’s sister, picks up the story.

“We got hooked. It’s such a good feeling and people would come to us and be like, ‘We know this person that needs help, what do you think?’ This was all word of mouth. Soon our yearly fundraiser turned into 240 motorcycles and three buses.”

All three women look back over this last eight years of fundraising. They are proud of the money they’ve raised but believe the fundraiser is really about something else.

Baby Penelope, neuroblastoma cancer.

“The thing I love about the motorcycle fundraiser is that we have bikers from all walks of life mixing with friends and family of either the beneficiary or a previous beneficiary.” Holly pauses. “The absolute feeling of love that is with this event is unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.” Holly, a biker friend of Linda and Denise, shakes her head in wonder.

Denise says they have helped somewhere between 30 and 35 sick children and sick adults through Angels for Sam.

Princess Camryn, 4 years old, neuroblastoma. 

After they tell several stories of sick kids and sick parents, I ask how they deal with the sadness of these kids and adults going through these illnesses, especially when there are unhappy outcomes.

“The day of the ride, when we help someone, we don’t solve their problems. The money is a drop in the bucket. It is the feeling of love they get from everyone. It is a game changer… sorry.”

Linda tears up, quickly joined by Denise and Holly. A contagion of tears among the angels.

Melanie, mother of five children, malignant melanoma.

Holly laughs, wiping her eyes, “Don’t worry if you don’t have friends who ride motorcycles. This is one of those events you can just show up. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anybody, by the end of the ride you’re going to have 10 new friends.”joes2

And what about the folks receiving the donation?

Lochlan, 13 months old, rare form of liver cancer.

“It’s hard sometimes for some people to accept help. I told one young mom there are times in our lives when we are the givers and times that we are the receivers. It’s your time to be a receiver.” Holly says in a voice that leaves no room for disagreement. A mom’s voice.

Well, and what if you’re sitting at the fun table and someone needs help? Apparently it’s the time to be a giver. Lucky for the rest of us.

[The motorcycle fundraiser is June 14, starting from 9-11 a.m. at The Brewhouse No. 25 in Altoona.  Angels for Sam is a nonprofit organization. One hundred percent of all money raised goes to the beneficiaries. By the way, you don’t have to have a motorcycle; you can ride in a bus. New friends are guaranteed.] CV


Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:


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