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.
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
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.