Remembering Danny Thomas


It was a glorious year when Judy Lester introduced Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, to ESA. Danny stepped into the 1970 Convention immediately feeling the ESA love. Members admired his mindset, vision and passion for giving a helping hand to numerous children around the world. He left St. Paul, MN as an official honorary member.

danny-million-dollar-bike-ride.jpgIt was two years later when the International Council Board endorsed St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as our first international philanthropy and pledged to raise $1 million. Danny received ESA’s first check for St. Jude, kicking off the goal, on the Dinah Shore Show in 1972.

Continuing the effort, Judy Lester and Leon Feddersen thought of a wonderful idea that quickly spread across ESA nation.  Million Dollar Bike Rides were hosted in neighborhoods from coast to coast beginning in July of 1972. Some riders were privileged enough to present the proceeds to Danny Thomas at the end of their journey. ESA members pedaled until they completed the promise they made to Danny. The numerous bike rides, including Billye Peterson’s, ended with the final ride on May 24, 1975 from New Orleans, LA to Chicago, IL.  

floor-dedication.jpgFast forward a few months, members of ALSAC came together on November 22, 1975 to witness International Council President, Jo Isquierdo hand Danny Thomas a giant check for ONE MILLION DOLLARS!! ESA had reached its one million dollar goal in less than four years! Tears streamed down everyone’s faces and a loud applause erupted the room. Danny graciously accepted the result of all the long hours, letters, phone calls, sore muscles and love which made up each bike ride that all had the goal of helping the children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Down the road a few more years, members flew in from all over to celebrate ESA’s 50th anniversary at the 1979 International Council Convention in Denver, CO. Danny took his place in an oversized director’s chair stationed in front of an empty child’s crib. The crib was symbolic of ESA’s desire to help in the fight to cure childhood diseases.

1979crib.jpgMembers walked up to the crib with moneybags, each one representing one thousand dollars raised for the hospital by their respective state. Soon the crib overflowed and the moneybags continued to pile up.

Finally, the last member came up to the stage and placed their state’s moneybags with the others. Then, ESA International Council President Gennie Haralson announced the total: $1,052,116. A year ago when Danny had asked ESA to raise one million dollars in one year, slight doubt fell upon members. To hear the goal being met caused everyone to jump to their feet in joy, except Danny who fell to his knees in reverence and awe in ESA’s achievement.

Another “scrapbook moment” of Danny’s relationship with ESA was at the ALSAC Conference in Indianapolis in 1980. Judy Lester, ESA International Council President in 1974, got Danny Thomas feeling like a kid again. She had Danny change into a “500” racer outfit and got him to hop into a race car. He was sent out on the track with 20 other drivers and absolutely loved it. He later said that he just put his foot on the floor and let the kid in him come out.

The fun didn’t stop there. At the 35th Convention in Ohio in 1982 Danny decided that everyone needed to sit back, relax and enjoy a Danny’s Night Club Act. The room filled with laughter as honorary member Danny Thomas showed us his “storytelling” skills. He was a true entertainer.

37th-convention.jpgFive years later, more than 900 people, including a few ESA members, attended a “Brunch with Danny” at the 1987 ALSAC Conference. Everyone rose to give International Council President, Corinne Milburn, and ESA a standing ovation for ESA’s love, commitment and the $10 million that made Danny’s dreams a reality. In recognition of Corinne’s outstanding support, Danny presented her with a plaque featuring a night view of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Danny Thomas truly loved the children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He once said, “I do not call these MY kids . . . they are OUR kids.”

Anyone who interviewed Danny Thomas used to come to the inescapable conclusion: he was a man who had much to be proud of, but the thing that he took the greatest pride in was not his professional success, but his leadership role in continuing story of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Since 1991, ESA has continued the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital story in honor of Danny
Thomas. We have raised more than $290 million in cash and pledges to date.  Rain, hail, sleet or snow has never stopped the hundreds of radio-thons, bike rides, skate-a-thons, tournaments, races and more that are held each year to keep this number growing. Each day, each week, each month ESA members stretch their talents and imaginations to plan the events needed to make all our goals and Danny’s dreams possible.

To learn more about how Danny Thomas started St. Jude Research Hospital, visit their website:

As we continue to climb through the years, ESA reached whole new peaks in just three short years. Check back in two week to experience ESA’s highs.

Written by Audrey Potter
Posted: 8/5/2019 11:30:58 AM by Mackeigan Mackeigan | with 0 comments

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