It’s a Great Day to Be Alive

The pastime of upcycling, flipping and finding hidden treasures at vintage markets, flea markets and resale venues has become a national pastime. But that’s not what inspired Gary Klapperich, a 3rd generation Dexter resident and owner of Klapperich Welding since 1979, to establish the “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” fundraising event that features a rummage sale, auction, 50/50 raffle, cook-out and more. Gary was responding to a much more serious trend…he started the event to help fight cancer.

His renewed health gave him the chance to marry the love of his life, Karin, on September 13, 2014. And, yes, Gary will tell you, “That was the greatest day to be alive. She is my very best friend.”

Nearly twelve years ago, Gary was diagnosed with colon cancer. Having never been to a hospital before, he shared the diagnosis was terrifying. To treat the cancer, Gary underwent a successful surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea, followed by chemotherapy at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. It was during the long hours of infusion that Gary kept his spirits up with the Travis Tritt tune “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.”

Gary was so grateful for the care he received from his surgeon Jennifer Kulick, MD, and oncologist Katie Beekman, MD, and their care teams, he joined with fellow members from the Ann Arbor Fraternal Order of Eagles #2154 and the Dexter American Legion #557 to launch an annual fundraising event named for the song, to support cancer care.

They were inspired by the care Gary received and the idea that same level of care could be possible close to home for more families. They were early to join the community in supporting St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea’s current Cancer Center. Gifts made it possible to open the Cancer Center in 2014 and offer state-of-the-art radiation, chemotherapy and surgical services as well as a healing environment for personalized care.

“I wanted to show my gratitude and help others. I’m so lucky I have some great people in my life to help me do that and who take pride in supporting the cancer center like I do,” said Klapperich. “I think people are drawn to rummage sales because it’s exciting to find something others see as broken or forgotten, and you take it home and shine it up and make it new again. When you have cancer, you really rely on your doctors to fix you up and make you new again, and their dedication to giving you a second chance makes you love life more than ever.”

The “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” event gained popularity over the years. Gary and friends have raised an overall total of $275,000 in support of cancer care at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea.

Today, Gary gets regular colon cancer screenings and is cancer free. His renewed health gave him the chance to marry the love of his life, Karin, on September 13, 2014. And, yes, Gary will tell you, “That was the greatest day to be alive. She is my very best friend.”

Gary, Karin and the other leaders involved remain dedicated to ensuring event guests, many who would not likely get screened otherwise, understand its benefits and know that St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea has seamless screening, diagnosis and treatment options.

“Every year, this fundraiser brings together friends and families to support the fight against cancer in our community,” said Nancy Graebner, president, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea. “In no small part due to Gary’s own inspirational cancer journey, what began as a small community effort has grown to have a significant impact.”

To learn about how you can support St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea, please contact
Katie Elliott, Development Director
Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org or 734-712-3919.


If you are interested in learning more about colon cancer screening, call
734-593-5650.

Colon Cancer Screening

  • Colon Cancer Screening In 2017, there was an estimated 95,500 new cases of colon cancer in the U.S.
  • The slow growth from precancerous polyps to invasive cancer provide a unique opportunity for prevention and early detection.
  • Screening is recommended beginning at age 50 for people at average risk, and earlier for people at increased risk because of family history or certain medical conditions.

* https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2019.pdf

Defining Mercy: Jim and Robin Henderson

Robin and Jim Henderson chose St. Joseph Mercy Oakland as their hospital to deliver their four children in the 1970s, and have given generously to support vital expansions and innovative programs throughout the hospital for more than three decades. 

“Our four kids were born at St. Joe’s.  And, since then, we’ve been able to watch the hospital grow and progress over the years and have seen the way it helps people and saves peoples’ lives,” explained Jim as he and Robin accepted the hospital’s Mercy Legacy Award this year, presented by Shannon Striebich, President, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland. 

Throughout the years, the Hendersons have maintained a close relationship with the hospital and made gifts to support areas of great need.  

As part of the 2002 West Wing Campaign, they made a generous gift that allowed St. Joe’s to establish the “Robin L. & James E. Henderson Medical Clinic,” a teaching clinic for residents and fellows at St. Joe’s.  The Clinic provides primary care and specialty services such as cardiology and pre- and post-surgical care to more than 1,000 patients each year. 

When St. Joe’s Oakland launched the Future is Now capital campaign, the Hendersons were among its biggest supporters.  The Campaign helped fund the new Patient Tower, Surgical Pavilion and leading-edge technology that has garnered six consecutive annual awards as the “Most Wired” Hospital by the American Hospital Association.   

The Hendersons’ insightful giving toward the Campaign allowed St. Joe’s to implement an incredible technological feature, the Surgical Pavilion’s Patient Tracking System to transform the waiting experience for family members who are given regular updates via a screen in the waiting room.  Each patient is assigned a number to protect privacy and when the surgery is complete, the surgeon provides a personal update. 

“It’s just a short period of time in the hospital, but it’s a very emotional and intense time,” said Jim regarding the wait family members have during a loved one’s surgery.

The Hendersons have been true partners in St. Joe’s mission providing support for advanced medical services as well as compassionate and spiritual healing.  Following their gift for the Surgical Pavilion, they made a gift to name the “Robin L. and James E. Henderson Reflection Garden.” 

“This is one of my favorite spots on campus… it’s just so beautiful.  If you haven’t visited the reflection garden, I invite you to discover the peace and tranquility that patients, colleagues and guests have come to know,” said Shannon.  “The Henderson Reflection Garden is an outdoor sanctuary.”

Most recently, the Hendersons made a transformational gift to name the “Robin L. and James E. Henderson Dental Center,” celebrating an ongoing partnership with the hospital, and meeting one of our community’s greatest needs.

The Hendersons’ inspirational giving has allowed St. Joe’s to expand and enhance our patient-focused dental center – one of only a few hospital-based dental centers in the state, providing specialized care to those with disabilities as well as serving families who are uninsured or financially insecure.

Their gift was the capstone of a two-year campaign to raise funds to expand the dental center. The expanded clinic has five treatment rooms, a laboratory workspace for the dental residents, a complete instrument sterilization area, and a private consultation/classroom area.  One of the treatment rooms has a floor-mounted hoist that can lock into a wheelchair so it can be tilted back like a dental chair to enhance comfort and safety for patients while they are receiving dental treatment. 

“Regular dental care and good oral health are essential to overall health, self-esteem and quality of life,” said Craig C. Spangler, DDS, Program Director Emeritus for the General Dental Residency.  “The Hendersons, and all those who have supported the clinic, have made it possible for those patients with barriers to dental care to receive comprehensive dental treatment while training the dentists of tomorrow.” 

The Henderson’s generous gift is making a difference for the 600 patients who visit the Dental Center each year.  Some of these patients have not had dental treatment in many years, and present with treatment challenges that may be treated in the clinic, or require treatment in the operating room under general anesthesia.    

Jim has shared, “Robin and I view our contributions to St. Joe’s over the years as something we just wanted to do because we thought we could help a few people be a little better off than they otherwise would have been.  We’re delighted St. Joe’s has been able to provide that help to so many people in need.”

“Having philanthropic partners like the Hendersons allows St. Joe’s Oakland to be an innovative leader in health care and to sustain our commitment to serve all those in need,” said Shannon. “We are grateful and inspired by Jim and Robin’s vision and ongoing investment in St. Joe’s, our healing mission, and the patients we serve.”

To make a gift today, visit: giving.stjoeshealth.org/oakland

To learn more about St. Joseph Mercy Oakland and ways you can support our healing mission, please contact The Office of Development at:

Jana McNair, Regional Director of Major Gifts
248-858-3556 or
Jana.McNair@stjoeshealth.org

Craig Peiser, Director of Major Gifts
248-858-6142 or
Craig.Peiser@stjoeshealth.org

 Jill Schubiner, Gift Officer
248-858-6146 or
Jill.Schubiner@stjoeshealth.org

Great Minds – Suzanne and Raymond Baber, Jr., Endowed Fund for Nursing Education

Nick Nickolopoulos and Suzanne Baber

With a commitment to education and helping others, Sue and Ray Baber built a legacy of supporting St. Joe’s Oakland, most notably as volunteers and through gifts to establish the Suzanne and Raymond Baber, Jr., Endowed Fund for Nursing Education.

The Path to Giving Sue grew up in a small farming village near Grand Rapids, but as an avid reader, her mind and dreams were expansive.  Her interests led her to Central Michigan University where she majored in English and teaching, and later to University of Michigan for a counseling degree. For tuition, Sue relied on scholarships and work study roles like cafeteria dishwasher.  Her commitment paid off with a 19-year career in her beloved fields. Fortuitously, Sue also led a Future Nurses Club at the high school where she taught. 

During his life, Ray Baber was an avid supporter of education. Ray served as a United States Navy Pilot, led General Motors Truck and Assembly and was the Vice President for Campbell Ewald’s Chevrolet account team.  He knew the value of good training and accredited education for much of his success.  The couple generously supported Kettering University and Central Michigan University as well as other organizations.

When they retired in 1996, Ray and Sue wanted to give back to the doctors, nurses and hospital they trusted with their health. They began to volunteer at St. Joe’s. Ray was a greeter, and Sue was assigned to the ICU.  At first she checked people in and out, but her diligence and good nature quickly led to greater responsibilities on the unit. It was during that time Sue began to bond with the nurses.

Making a Difference

“When I was with the nurses in the breakroom, many shared their interest in education like seminars or advanced degrees, wishing they had the means. And, I always wanted to do something to help,” explained Sue. “As patients, Ray and I noticed the staff was very caring and we were impressed by the hospital’s investment in making staff feel confident in their roles. We wanted to build on their commitment because nursing education benefits the nurse, their colleagues, and the patients.”

The Babers’ support has strengthened the nursing education program, funding an onsite annual conference, off-site seminars, certifications, and advanced degrees (see sidebar).

“I started at St. Joe’s as a patient care tech, and Sue always encouraged me to continue my education and broaden my career,” said Nick Nickolopoulos, Director of Nursing – Medical-Surgical/Critical Care/ Nursing Resource Pool. “She is inspiring. And, Sue and Ray’s gifts have strengthened the skills and passion of many nurses at St. Joe’s.” Nick is among the many nurses who became friends with Sue.

And, Sue feels the same way about them. “When I lost Ray in 2005, returning to my volunteer work at St. Joe’s was really important to me. I don’t have any siblings – the nurses are like my family.”

Today, at 90 years old, Sue has retired from volunteering and saves her energy for tai chi and aqua aerobics, “it keeps me going,” she says. She has stayed connected to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Lake Orion, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and St. Joe’s McAuley Club. And, of course, she continues to read a lot, visit St. Joe’s (she’s especially fond of the Robin L. and James E. Henderson Reflection Garden), and remains in touch with many of the nurses at St. Joe’s. 

“Our nurses, and ultimately, our patients, are so fortunate for the Babers’ generosity,” said Dawn Hanson, Nurse Manager ICU and Scholarship Committee Co-chair. “Sue taught me to be a mentor. It’s an honor to hold true to the integrity of the Babers’ intentions to help nurses build resilience, compassion, and expertise. Both personally and as a nurse leader, I’m extremely grateful to Sue for her friendship and time and to her and Ray for their foresight and gifts.”

Since the article was written, The Suzanne and Raymond Baber, Jr., Endowed Fund for Nursing Education was recognized at the 2019 McAuley Club and Mercy Heritage Society Annual Appreciation Dinner for its ongoing impact, benefitting more than 50 nurses this past year through support for ongoing education including scholarships, graduate residency support, trauma symposiums and national conferences.  Nick Nickolopoulos was promoted to Chief Nursing Officer of St. Joe’s Oakland sister hospital St. Mary Mercy Livonia. 

Nursing Education Achievements 2016-2017

  • 35 Nursing Scholarships (July 2016 – November 2017)
  • 180 nurses attending bi-annual Emergency and Critical Care Conference – onstie at the hospital
  • 3 ICU nurses attended the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Comprehensive Unitbased Safety Program (CUSP)
  • 2 nurses became Certified Emergency Nurses
  • 2 nurses became Critcal Care Registered Nurses

To make a gift to St. Joe’s Oakland, visit:
giving.stjoeshealth.org/oakland

Or, contact the Office of Development

Jana McNair, Regional Director of Major Gifts, at 248-858-3556 or Jana.McNair@stjoeshealth.org

Craig Peiser, Director of Major Gifts, at 248-858-6142 or Craig.Peiser@stjoeshealth.org


Jill Schubiner, Gift Officer, at 248-858-6146 or Jill.Schubiner@stjoeshealth.org

(Source: “Gift of Health” Spring 2017)

A 50-year Relationship Sparks a Gift for the Future

Jabara Family

Walter M. Whitehouse, Jr., MD, with Julia and Kal Jabara at the fall 2015 event celebrating donors who supported the Walter M. Whitehouse, Jr., MD, Endowed Chair for Surgery – the first endowed chair at St. Joe’s

“If a hospital and its staff could be members of someone’s family, St. Joe’s and its doctors and nurses would be a part of ours,” said Julia Jabara. 

Kal and Julia Jabara moved to Plymouth, Michigan, with their children in 1968 and started Wild Wings and Kincaid Art Galleries, one of Kal’s many business ventures. At that time, they also began a nearly 50-year relationship with St. Joe’s. 

The Jabaras have held together through many health trials that have only strengthened their family’s love and inspired them to give back to their community.  A number of years ago during an appointment with Dr. Whitehouse, Julia asked, “When will someone be raising money for a Whitehouse professorship?”  The family felt Dr. Whitehouse should be recognized for his expertise, the respect he shows patients, the mentorship of surgical residents, and the kindness he practices every day. In 2015, when they posed the question again, Dr. Whitehouse shared St. Joe’s plans for an endowed chair.  A few months later, Kal, Julia and their son Dean arrived at St. Joe’s to present Dr. Whitehouse with the family’s leadership gift. 

With the Jabaras’ extraordinary support as well as gifts from patients, physicians and staff, more than $1.5 million was raised to establish the Walter M. Whitehouse, Jr., MD, Endowed Chair for Surgery – the first endowed chair at St. Joe’s. 

It was soon followed by a second, the M. Hugh Solomon, MD, Endowed Chair for Urology. Again, the Jabaras chose to make a lead gift, this time to recognize and thank Dr. Solomon for the exceptional treatment and compassionate care he had provided Kal.

The Jabaras’ gifts not only reflect their gratitude, but also their own personal commitment to others and our community. For many years Kal and Julia served as lead volunteers with the Kidney Foundation in Michigan. Kal has promoted local artists especially through the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. He was president of the Plymouth Rotary twice and of the Oilman’s Club as well as a volunteer for the Salvation Army in Detroit. Kal recently joined friend Howard Tanner in Michigan State University’s Project F.I.S.H. an educational program offered through local schools for youth and families.

“We are pleased to give back to a hospital that has meant so much to us and to our children,” said Julia Jabara. “And, we wish God’s Blessings on you all.”

“The Jabaras vision, encouragement and leadership gifts for St. Joe’s first two endowed chairs are inspiring and will sustain medical and surgical excellence as well as our healing mission,” said Katie Elliott, Director of Development at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.

Dr. Hugh and Mrs. Solomon with Kal and Julia Jabara

Thank You to Our Donors

St. Joe’s is grateful to the Jabaras and the generous donors who supported efforts to establish our first two endowed chairs named for Doctors Whitehouse and Solomon. Your recognition of our leaders will make ongoing excellence possible.

Income from the Walter M. Whitehouse, Jr., MD, Endowed Chair for Surgery and M. Hugh Solomon, MD, Endowed Chair for Urology will be used under the discretion of the Department Chairs, not for salaries or supply purchases, but for programs and projects that elevate St. Joe’s culture of research, learning and mentorship as well as innovative care.

The Solomon Endowment reflects Dr. Solomon’s leadership and dedication to continually improving urological treatments – bringing new technologies and protocols to St. Joe’s, providing patients with personalized care that has immediate and lasting benefits, and creating a healing environment. Dr. Solomon’s accomplishments are a cornerstone for the future of Urological care.

The Whitehouse Endowment recognizes all Dr. Whitehouse has made possible and the foundation of surgical excellence he has created through leadership, scientific study and patient-centered care; the enhancement of surgical care, the construction of St. Joe’s state-of-the-art surgery centers, the success of surgical residents, and the lives he has touched.

To make a gift today, visit  
giving.stjoeshealth.org/ann-arbor

Or to learn more about how you can support St. Joe’s, contact the Office of Development:

Katie Elliott, Director of Major and Planned Gifts
734-712-3919 or
Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org  

Karen Campbell, Gift Officer
734-712-2890 or
Karen.Campbell@stjoeshealth.org  

Melissa Sheppard, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations
734-712-4079 or
Melissa.Sheppard@stjoeshealth.org

(Source: “Gift of Health” Spring 2017)