Connor’s Army

Gene Conner is another of my great old friends. I met him at SMU, in the residence halls. He was part of my all-star-RA-staff the last year I was in seminary. In college, Gene was a dance major. He was great dancer. I still remember the afternoon Gene was part of a brownbag series over at the Meadows School. Many of us from that tight RA staff went over to watch him dance to the Indigo Girl’s “Blood and Fire.” That that CD was something of a soundtrack for that last year of our lives in school. (for many of us…)

Here’s the whole staff, down at the old downtown Chuy’s:

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Gene’s on the far right. That’s me next to him. Yep, promise it is.
(Others from right: Patrick Lea, Shannon Brown, Dennise, Carolyn Herter, Rafael Anchia, Shannon Breaux, and Chris Wilmoth)

Here’s Carolyn, me, Gene, and Dennise on graduation day in front of Letterman Hall:

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Yes, I had hair then.

Gene moved to New York after school and he did dance for some time there. Eventually, he settled in to a career as a teacher, married a wonderful woman, and had some great kids. (They must be…they’re Gene’s…).

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But Gene has something else that sets him apart from all my other friends. And it’s not a distinction he –or anyone else for that matter– would ever want. Gene Connor, and his family, has been touched by the scourge of cancer more than anyone else I know.

As Gene tells it, until he reached adulthood he’d never really thought much about cancer. A few folks had it along the way…a grandmother, a great-uncle, a friend of the family. But he was young, they were somewhat distant, and it didn’t strike close.

That all changed in 2005.

First, Gene’s wife’s grandmother –a beloved member of the family– died. That was quickly followed by his uncle. Then his wife’s aunt. Then a colleague from work. Somewhere in this, Gene also learned that his mother –who had ben out of his life for some years, and only recently reconnected– had also had cancer somewhere along the way.

That would have been enough. I mean, that’s five close family members and friend in a period of just a few years.

But that’s not half the story…

Somewhere in the midst of all this, his sister also got cancer.

The very next year, another of his sisters got cancer.

A year after that? A third sister got cancer.

Three sisters in less than three years. Plus the other five close friends and family….eight people in all, in the span of just a few years.

How could this be?!!! he wondered. What is going on here?!!!

Obviously, he was there for his family, providing emotional support to them (Gene’s a very kind soul…). But what a load to carry, and what a struggle to keep hope.

Then, he started thinking, What if this isn’t over? What if it happens again to someone else I love?

That’s when Gene knew he had to do MORE.

So, Gene decided to do something he knew he could do to help. He decided to ride his bike.

Gene decided to ride his bike 2000 miles over the span of one year, and to use that goal to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Thus “Connor’s Army” was born; a movement of friends, family, and other supporters that are helping Gene make this goal.

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His goal is to raise $10,000. The year is just about half gone, and Gene is just about halfway to the goal. I could not be prouder of my old friend. But often, the last half of a goal is harder to reach than the first. And so, I’d like to urge you all to join in.

Become a part of Connor’s Army, and help Gene make his goal. You can do that by going right here.

Here’s a part of Gene’s plea for you to be involved:

“Now please understand. I’m no Lance Armstrong. I cycle to work and occasionally for pleasure, but by the end of 2006 I logged about 1,500 commuting miles. And in 2007 I plan to push myself as I raise money for the American Cancer Society. In 2007 every drop I sweat will be in gratitude for Winnie, Angela and TaMara. In 2007 every hill I struggle up will be for my children. In 2007 every mile I ride will be to help beat this disease that ravages the lives of everyday people. In 2007 you can join the battle, too, by joining Connor’s Army in the war against cancer.

Help make 2007 the year everyone facing cancer knows that they’re not doing battle on their own.”

One of the cool things about the internet is that it allows us to make connections we would never otherwise make. Most of you would never know Gene. But this blog lets you know him a bit, giving you the chance to connect with an average guy trying to make a difference.

It’s a great story, it’s all true, and I’m proud to say it’s the story of a friend who’s certainly one of my “Balcony People.” Gene has made the choice not to be a victim, but to be a fighter.

I hope you’ll be inspired to help him, and I hope you’ll give generously.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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