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Danny Thomas
Teenage March
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May in Connecticut meant the Danny Thomas Teenage March Against Leukemia for five years during the 1960s.

On May 19, 1963, the first of four annual fund raising campaigns was sponsored by WDRC in Hartford. Teenage fans of the Big D spent a Sunday going door-to-door asking for donations for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, a charity founded by the late comedian and TV star. The WDRC Friendly Five (in 1963) and, later, the Swinging Six deejays were on hand broadcasting live as thousands of sets of feet set off on their quest. Click here to read Danny's 1963 thank-you letter.

During the four years of WDRC's involvement, more than $225,000 was collected - the highest per capita of any city in the United States at the time.

Danny Thomas
Danny Thomas

 
  Danny Thomas in front of St. Jude Children's Hospital

During the 1940s, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer with a baby on the way, visited a Detroit church and was so moved during the Mass, he placed his last $7 in the collection box. When he realized what hed done, Danny Thomas prayed for a way to pay the looming hospital bills. The next day, he was offered a small part that would pay 10 times the amount hed given to the church.

Two years later, he prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, asking the saint to help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.

As Danny's career took off he made good on his promise, making plans during the 1950s for a unique research hospital devoted to curing catastrophic diseases in children. Faced with the need for funds for St. Jude's ongoing operation, Thomas turned to his fellow Americans of Arabic-speaking heritage. In 1957 they formed ALSAC, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.

 
 

audio: May 1964 WDRC was so committed to the St. Jude's cause that weeks before the 1964 Teenage March, Earwitness newsman Aaron Shepard flew to the Tennessee hospital for a series of special reports. His moving account of what he saw appeared in the station's regular Hartford Courant column on April 26 (below right).

Participants in the Hartford march were always rewarded with a concert. Following the second annual Teenage March Against Leukemia on Sunday, May 3, 1964. Danny Thomas and singer Bobby Rydell staged two Big D Big Shows at the Bushnell Auditorium on May 31st to thank the 4,000 teens who collected $60,097.81.

May 29, 1964 - WDRC news director Joe Barbarette, account representative Mike Dreschler and Danny Thomas
(L-r:) May 29, 1964 - WDRC news director Joe Barbarette,
account representative Mike Dreschler and Danny Thomas.
 
 

The third annual March Against Leukemia was held Sunday, May 16, 1965. That year there were marches in Hartford and Middletown. WDRC's Dick Robinson broadcast live from the lobby of Hartford National Bank & Trust at Constitution Plaza, interviewing teenagers who were out collecting for ALSAC. The teens who raised the most money were treated to the Chubby Checker "All-Star Show" on June 2.

What's Doing 'Round Connecticut column - June 20, 1966
What's Doing 'Round Connecticut column - June 20, 1966

The fourth annual Big D Danny Thomas Teenage March Against Leukemia took place on Sunday, May 15th, 1966. The marchers collected $65,000. To thank central Connecticut for its continued support, Thomas headlined a show for the top 3,000 money raisers at the Bushnell on Tuesday, June 14th.

It's unclear why, but WDRC did not promote the fifth Annual Danny Thomas March Against Leukemia. Arch-rival WPOP sponsored the event in 1967 & 1968.

audio: May 19, 1969 But WDRC promoted the Danny Thomas Teenager's Marches on Sunday, May 25, 1969 and Sunday, May 24, 1970.

Danny & Marlo Thomas
Danny & Marlo Thomas

Thomas died in 1991 but his children, including actress Marlo Thomas, continue the work. For more information on St. Jude Hospital click here.

What's Doing 'Round Connecticut column - April 26, 1964 What's Doing 'Round Connecticut column - April 26, 1964

 
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