By NOREEN HYSLOP
When a few friends decided in 2001 to make a difference by raising some money for the V-Foundation for Cancer Research, they could not have imagined where that gesture might have led them.
The modest efforts of Scott Kruse, his late brother, Ben, and a host of friends eventually evolved into the 18 Fore Life Charity. And this year, they plan to pass the one million dollar mark in love offerings to area cancer patients as they continue inspiring others to give and cancer patients to "Never Give Up."
"We never could have dreamed this up," says 18 Fore Life head, Scott Kruse, of Dexter. Kruse, along with his wife, Kerri, are both educators in the Dexter School System, and each spends a lot of their spare time coordinating the efforts of the charity organization.
On the first Saturday of each June, the organization sponsors a charity golf tournament, with a banquet attended by over 500 held the night prior. The banquet has been a sellout almost since the inception of the charity.
"We secure a guest speaker for each year's banquet," Kruse explains, "who usually has some notoriety in the sports field, and who has a message related to an experience with cancer."
Among the guest speakers who have come to Dexter on behalf of the 18 Fore Life Foundation are Norm Stewart, John Mabry, the late Charlie Spoonhour, and Dave Dreveck.
Along with that keynote speaker, a local cancer survivor who has benefited personally from a $1,000 18 Fore Life love offering, traditionally addresses the crowd as well. The messages are usually high in emotion, but often laced with humor as well, and serve well to define what 18 Fore Life is all about.
The annual event is held with the motto in mind, "Celebrate. Give. Remember."
"We've met some of the most awesome people in the world since we started this organization," Kruse says. "Through the amazing generosity of this community and beyond, we've been able to grant $885,000 in love offerings to patients in Southeast Missouri who face the financial burden that accompanies every cancer diagnosis. It lookes like we will surpass the one million dollar mark in 2013."
Those patients, says Kruse, have served to inspire the foundation to continue their efforts, with new and unique methods of raising funds cropping up every year.
"We've had teachers pay a few dollars to get to wear jeans to school. We've had volleyball and basketball teams across the county 'Pink Up' for cancer and 'Hits for Hope,' donating proceeds from a night's play to the organization. We have Ten Pins for Ben at Dexter Bowl with thousands of dollars raised on a Saturday in February that goes to St. Jude's, and Claus for a Cause, a Christmas project that raised over $4,000 last year."
Area children have gotten in on the act as well. Youngsters have asked for donations to go to 18 Fore Life in lieu of birthday presents at their parties. Youngsters at Malden hosted a Halloween party, with admission being a donation to the organization.
"We never saw this coming," Kruse notes. "The idea of the foundation came from a simple idea among a bunch of high school buddies. Never did we dream that it would evolve into an organization that is about to give away its millionth dollar in love offerings. A caring, loving and generous community are to be credited with the foundation's success. I cannot say enough about this community and how they continue to step up to help others in their time of need. It just takes seeing a smile on a cancer survivor's face to know that it's all been worthwhile."