When I think of Midge Reisman, the words “serene” and “soft-spoken” come to mind. “Devoted” and “determined” pop up in big bold letters when I consider the fact that she’s supported charities as a volunteer fundraiser for nearly 40 years.  And the lady’s still going strong.

Her passion for helping others is rooted in childhood and nurtured in tragedy. “My parents were always interested in helping people less fortunate than they were.

“As far back as I can remember they were setting aside money for charitable contributions,” she explained. So in the natural flow of things, after she became a teenager they began to encourage her to go door-to-door collecting money for City of Hope.

Happily hooked

Years later, Midge became closely affiliated with this world-famous medical/research institution. However, her teenage wish list showed no desire to become one of its door-knocking supporters when the subject first came up.

“After a while I agreed to go along with the plan only to please my parents. I quickly came around to their way of thinking once I discovered how gratifying it is to know you’re helping others,” she said.

Fast forward to Midge 13 years into her marriage to Ed, mother of three and, along with Ed, a new member of a City of Hope chapter. After what she described as  “a period of helping out and gaining experience,” Midge volunteered to chair an upcoming fundraiser. It not only marked her debut; it was a first for her City of Hope chapter which had never staged this event before. How’s that for piling extra pressure on a rookie?

Sunday treat

Promoted as Lox Box Day, the event focused on the sale of boxed breakfasts to friends and neighbors of City of Hope volunteers. The boxes, of course, contained lox (cold smoked salmon for the uninitiated) as well as bagels, cream cheese and other breakfast specialties. On a specified Sunday morning volunteers delivered the goods to those who had ordered them. And plenty of people did. Lox Box Day was a smash hit.

“Because it was so well received, Lox Box Day was a turning point as far as I was concerned. The experience gave me confidence in my ability to organize and successfully run other fundraisers,” Midge recalled.

Another more meaningful turning point was reached when Midge and her 50-year-old brother, Milt, decided to take tennis lessons. Their teacher was Laurie King, a former nationally ranked seniors division player.

Sad stories

After a few lessons Milt was forced to quit. He was the victim of lymphoma, a form of leukemia, which ultimately took his life at age 55. The discovery of Milt’s illness forged a strong friendship between Midge and Laurie King whose 26-year-old son had recently died from leukemia. But the heartbreak didn’t stop there.

Mr. and Mrs. King belonged to Parents Against Leukemia (PAL), an organization that became affiliated with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Its membership consisted of families with leukemia-stricken children.

Their goal: Give financial support to researchers seeking a cure for leukemia. Their fate: By the 7th year of Pal’s existence only one child of its families was still alive.

In 1981 PAL was on the brink of closing its doors.  “Yet Laurie wanted to continue raising funds somehow. With her feeling so strongly and me wanting a cure for my brother, I tried desperately to think of a way to help.”

Tennis anyone?

“It finally hit me. The obvious thing to do was hold a ladies doubles tennis tournament and luncheon. Laurie, as a tennis teacher, had lots of students and knew so many players that it seemed a no-brainer that a tournament was the way to go. She said she’d like to take on the project but didn’t have any help. I offered to work with her, and that’s how PAL was re-born.”

Guided by the team of Reisman and King, the organization gained importance as a sponsor of UCLA’s children’s leukemia researchers. To say the least, PAL backed the winners. Though a cure is yet to be found, significant progress has been made regarding treatment. As a result, the survival rate has steadily risen from 4% in 1981 to 80% in 2011.

In 2001 Midge and Laurie King turned over their duties to others at PAL. Midge, whose membership spans more than 30 years, served as Executive Director and remains active in the capacity of Vice President. Laurie King still helps organize the tennis portion of this popular tournament, which now includes a boutique and silent auction.

Sweet success

Clearly Midge has contributed much time and energy, helping to make PAL the success that it is. The same holds true for her earlier fundraising efforts at two City of Hope chapters. But don’t for a moment think that the caring and sharing begins and ends there.

For 12 years, she served both the Gail Cohen Leukemia Fund (of which she was a founder) and PAL until GCLF folded into PAL. Additionally, The Mountain Jewish Community Group of Lake Arrowhead has been on her work schedule, for the past six years. In each of these three organizations, she has been an officer, board member and key committee member.

Also, Midge is a widely respected watercolorist who frequently donates paintings for auction to a number of Southern California charities. Those that have benefited include:

The Boys and Girls Club of Lake Arrowhead; Couples Against Leukemia, Los Angeles; Guide Dogs of America, Sylmar; Herschel West Day School, Agoura; Parents Against Leukemia, San Fernando Valley; Mountain Bruins and the Mountain Jewish Community of Lake Arrowhead.

What drives this wonderful woman of charity? The answers follow straight from Midge, herself. And, characteristically, straight from the heart:

The more people can give in any way possible does make a difference. That’s why I’m always asking friends and strangers to help out if they can.

Today, people lead very busy lives and many are having trouble making ends meet, but we can’t forget about others who are in need. Whether one donates a monetary amount or gives their time and energy to work with a charity, these will all count in helping or saving lives.

I feel close to tears when I hear how much we, as volunteers, are able to raise each year to fund a researcher trying to find a cure.

How wonderful it will be to learn one day that leukemia and other cancers are no longer a death threat to anyone. Until that day comes, the fight has to continue. So, for as long as I can, I will work for PAL and other charities as well.

PAL and those other charities could not be luckier.