According to Donna Wise, who has chaired the St. Baldrick’s event each of its six years of existence, Michael Johnson has been the first to sign up each time. At left is Johnson’s wife, Kim Blevins, who is his personal groomer. (Photo by Richard RoBards)
By Richard RoBards, Campbellsville University
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — Having proudly served his country and now as the retired Chief of the Pyramid Lake Department of Safety in Nevada, Michael Johnson has grown comfortable with short hair.
And, as a charter member of the “shavee club” for Campbellsville’s St. Baldrick’s fundraising effort, he is also right at home with a skinned head.
“I don’t start out with a lot, but it’s the most satisfying hair cut of the year for me,” Johnson said.
According to Donna Wise, who has chaired the St. Baldrick’s event each of its six years of existence, Johnson has been the first to sign up each time.
Wise has a personal attachment to the St. Baldrick’s event and the money raised to fund research.
In 2007, her grandson, Carter Wise, was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma. Carter, along with other cancer survivors, are recognized each year – punctuating the importance of childhood cancer research.
But one in five children diagnosed with cancer does not survive. Brandon Richards was among the 20 percent who did not. Richards attended the second St. Baldrick’s event, but his thalamic glioma cancer returned in March of 2010 and he died that summer.
“I appreciate Michael’s commitment to our event,” Wise said. “It takes efforts like his and those others who will be shaving for our sixth year to make a difference.
“It is difficult to ask for donations in our current economy, but cancer doesn’t care about good or bad times … it strikes whenever.”
Johnson grew up in Cupertino, Calif., and didn’t arrive in Campbellsville until 2007, after being recruited by Amazon.com to be their director of loss prevention. He subsequently became a recession casualty, but before that happened he was looking for a way to connect within the community.
“I actually heard a radio spot for the St. Baldrick’s event in Lebanon and had signed up over there,” he said. “When I found out there was an event here, I switched my registration.”
Cancer hit close to home for Johnson when his uncle, Gerald K. McCulloch, fought a very brief battle with the disease.
“He was diagnosed in April of 2001 and died that August,” Johnson said. “He went way too fast. I do this in honor of him.
“I realize that St. Baldrick’s is specific to childhood cancer research, but the disease does not discriminate by race or age. It’s what keeps me involved.”
Campbellsville topped the $220,000 mark last year when the fifth annual St. Baldrick’s event rang up $50,523 through a variety of shaving donations and auctions – both live and silent.
But after losing his employment at Amazon, Johnson continues to call Campbellsville home, having found a new wife – the former Kim Blevins from Greensburg – and a new job in Portland, Tenn., with Macy’s.com.
Kim, through two years of marriage, has become Johnson’s personal groomer 67 percent of the year. But the other 33 percent, from Thanksgiving to the St. Baldrick’s event, Johnson’s hair does whatever it wants.
“I’m very comfortable with short hair,” Johnson said, “and Kim gets a couple of months off.
“The difference between a good and a bad haircut is only about two days anyway.”
Those who go online to Campbellsville’s St. Baldrick’s page might spy a photo of Johnson with a full head of hair. That’s because through the beauty of PhotoShop, Johnson’s daughter has created a profile photo using his 3 1/2-year-old grandson’s full head of hair.
“The biggest test to raising money each year is the challenge to be creative,” Johnson said. “I’ll try to guilt anyone into donating.”
One of the more recent exclamation points signaling the need for continued funding of childhood cancer research is K.J. Richerson, son of Kevin and Jane Richerson of Campbellsville.
Eleven-year-old K.J. began experiencing problems in February 2012, and by June was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Initially, he received radiation and chemo treatments at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, but then in October began outpatient treatment at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Except for a 10-day Christmas break, K.J. and his mom have lived at the McDonald’s House in Houston for the past five months to receive continuing medical care.
“We’re seeing progress every day,” Kevin said. “The last few months, with every new MRI, the doctors say they can see improvement and his tumor is shrinking.”
Kevin feels blessed that so many people have continued to keep his son in their thoughts and prayers.
“We know that’s what is helping … the continued support of friends, family and even those folks who may not even know us,” Kevin said. “K.J.’s doctor tells us that our faith is what is healing K.J.”
This year’s St. Baldrick’s event is Saturday at 11 a.m. at Campbellsville University’s Powell Athletic Center. At press time, $4,704 had been pledged for the effort.
To sign up to participate in St. Baldrick’s, visit www.stbaldricks.org/events and search for Campbellsville. Johnson’s page can be found by searing for his name.