Local Heroes


WINONA – Thanks to the efforts of a group of people participating in the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis this weekend, more than $20,000 will go toward the care of those suffering with childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases as well as research efforts to find a cure.

In its fourth year, the St. Jude team from Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District has raised $20,812 as of press time Wednesday.  Members of the team -- Amber Austin, Murry Catherin Alderman, Becky Dees, Erica Dees, Candace Durham, Noah Durham, Russell Durham, Lucy Glasner, Mike Kotecki,

Brenda Loftin, Belinda Morrison, John Parks, Tammy Reid, Susan Ricks, Bonita Smith, and Matt Surrell – have worked to meet their individual fundraising goals over the past year as part of the team effort, and each will be participating Saturday in either the 5K race, 10K race, or half marathon (13 miles).

Prior to the creation of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District four years ago, Amber Austin, team leader, said several people in the community were raising money through the annual marathon individually. Eventually, they “joined forces.”  This year has been another successful year for the team.

In fact, because of the team’s success over the years, several members of the team will be given a tour of the children’s hospital Friday before the race.

“This really puts a face to our efforts,” Austin said.

The ladies at Moore Memorial United Methodist Church also wanted to participate in helping St. Jude this year.  They crocheted 61 hats for team members to deliver to St. Jude on Friday during the tour of the hospital.

The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District team started the year with a reasonable goal, but thanks to the generosity of the community, that goal was quickly achieved and surpassed.

“We started out with a goal of $10,000,” said Austin.  “We kept increasing it because we kept exceeding the goal.”

As a group, a fundraiser was held at Winona Elementary School which allowed students to pay $1 to ditch the uniform shirt and wear a Superhero t-shirt on a particular day. Individually, the team members have used their individual talents and ingenuity to raise funds for St. Jude.

“Each person sets a goal,” Austin said.  “If you choose to be a St. Jude Hero, you raise $600.  You commit to it.”

Belinda Morrison of Carrollton raised nearly $7,000 selling baked goods on social media.  Noah Durham sold mistletoe during the Winona Christmas Parade Monday night and created and sold keychains.  Other team members held baked good auctions on social media.

Susan Ricks of Carrollton sought the help of her employer, Mike Rozier, owner of Rozier Construction in Carroll County to match what she raised in a 24-hour period.

“He will match anything I can raise in a 24-hour period up to $1,000,” Ricks said. 

During that 24 hours, Ricks works the phone to raise as much as she can.

“I show no mercy,” she laughed.  “I tell them, ‘Now is the time to give.’  They come through.”

Ricks has been participating in the St. Jude Marathon since 2014, when she and her friend, Belinda Morrison, began training for the 13-mile half marathon.

“We used to exercise together,” Ricks said.  “She pushes me, and I push her.  It is nice to have someone who cares about it as much as you do.”

For Ricks, the work of St. Jude has been seen first-hand when her son, Brett Pugh, now 32 and cancer-free, battled large cell lymphoma when he was just five-years-old.  Pugh received treatment for cancer for a year at Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, but his treatment protocol was developed at St. Jude.

“All the research done at St. Jude is shared worldwide,” Ricks said. 

Becky Dees raises money in memory of her son, Greg Dees, who passed away from Leukemia on November 5, 2015, at the age of 29. 

Dees said she walked her first St. Jude Marathon in December 2016, and since that time, she has channeled her fundraising efforts to St. Jude and I Fight Team Dees, a scholarship fund given in Greg’s memory.

“I know people in Montgomery County who have benefitted from St. Jude,” Dees said.  “Everyone knows someone [who got help from St. Jude] and everyone knows someone who has cancer.”

While her photography of local high school athletes supports the scholarship fund, Dees and her husband, Johnnie, make pin-on buttons in support of a young athlete, candidate, or just about any cause requested.  She sells the buttons for $4 each, and this year alone, she has raised $3,100 for St. Jude.

“That is a lot of buttons,” Dees said. 

Dees said her button project started with parents wanting to show pride in their child on the football field, baseball or softball diamond, track, or basketball court.  It started at Winona High School, where Dees is a teacher, and has since branched into school around the region – Winona Christian, Carroll Academy, Pillow Academy, Eupora High School, Choctaw County High School, Nanih Waiya High School, and French Camp School.

“While supporting their child, they are also helping save a child’s life,” Dees said.  “Because, I always say, everyone deserves to have more birthdays.”

This past election year, Dees even sold buttons supporting various candidates upon request.

Dees said if anyone is interested in having buttons made to support St. Jude, visit her Facebook page.

Although the Marathon is Saturday, fundraising efforts through the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District are ongoing until January 1.  To make a donation, visit https://fundraising.stjude.org/ and teach for team “WMCSD Tigers.”


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