Family turns heartache to helping hands

By on October 1, 2011

Photo: Part of the Pumpkins for a Cure team at Kuipers’ Farm getting ready to load pumpkins. Steve Rambo (left to right), Paul Zellmer, Mary Agnes, Judy Col- lignon and Sue Coari. Photo by John DiDonna

by Susan O’Neill

GENEVA—Mary Agnes and Paul Zellmer’s son, Jim Zellmer, developed Type 1 diabetes when he was just 6 years old. When he came home after six days in the hospital, he realized that this was not like the time his brother had his tonsils removed. This disease would be with him the rest of his life, and he would have to take shots every day for the rest of his life.

“Mommy, fix this,” he said.

Mary’s heart went out to her son. She knew she couldn’t make the diabetes go away. But she could do something that would help him— and the rest of the family—feel that they had some measure of control.

Paul’s parents, Iowa farmers, offered to donate a crop of pumpkins and gourds to raise money that would go to help find a cure for dia- betes. The following fall, they made $2,000 sell- ing the pumpkins and gourds on their front lawn in the Mill Creek Subdivision in Geneva.

“Everybody was so generous,” Mary said.

Seven years later, Pumpkins for a Cure is a two-day event held in front of the Kane Coun- ty Court House in Geneva. The Zellmers sell pumpkins and gourds and late-blooming mums. This year, they are ordering 11 tons of pump- kins, and there will also be specialty pumpkins available. People pay whatever amount they want.

There are all kinds of children’s activities, including a children’s raffle, a craft table, face painting, music by Jeanie B and more. Haunt- ed hay rides, a professional pumpkin carver, fall gardening and decorating tips by Master Gardener Debbie Notaro, a pet costume con- test, free hot dogs and a performance by the Jesse White Tumblers make it a whole day of fun while people contribute to a good cause.

New this year is an event called Taste for a Cure. Held in front of the Little Traveler, seven Fox Valley restaurants will serve a sample of their best desserts containing pumpkin. People may purchase $5 tickets from Mary before the event, which entitles them to taste three desserts. Tickets the day of the event are $10.

“The price is affordable,” Mary said. “A family of four can come for $20.”

Individuals can vote for their favorite in the people’s choice category, and there will also be an award for the most creative dessert. A professional panel of judges, including head judge and All Chocolate Kitchen owner Alain Roby, will determine the best dessert.

The Zellmers have created their own not- for-profit organization, the Zellmer Childhood Disease Foundation, which supports education and research projects related to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of juvenile diabetes and other chronic childhood diseases.

The organizations that receive the money include the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.

During the past seven years, they have raised $250,000.

“People really do care and they really want to help,” Mary said. “The women who come, I think they are grateful that they have healthy children, and this is their way of showing that gratitude.”

The foundation uses the money to fund grants for specific research, including a current project at the University of Illinois at Chicago to develop a newer, more advanced insulin treatment.

In addition to raising money for diabetes research and education, the family has also funded over 100 scholarships to send children with diabetes to a diabetes camp sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. Jim and his younger brother Joe volunteered as junior counselors this year at one of the camps.

The children do everything that normal campers would do, except that the staff are all nurses and doctors who volunteer their time each year to provide campers with a safe camp experience. They also teach the children how to recognize when their blood sugar is low and how to give themselves their own shots.

Jim and Joe (who does not have diabetes) both attended the camp when they were younger, and they loved it so much that they wanted to give back what they feel they received.

Mary said that having a son with diabetes and all of the activities they have become involved with has been a life-changing experience for the entire family. She said it has been a great lesson in how Jim and the rest of them really can change their own destiny.




Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Kane County Courthouse 100 S. Third St., Geneva

Pumpkins, gourds, fall mums and all kinds of free activities

All proceeds go to the Zellmer Childhood Disease Foundation

To purchase advance tickets for Taste for a Cure, call Mary Zellmer at (630) 479-8116