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Current Issue: Fall/Winter 2003
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  BENEFACTORS
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ONE IN A MILLION

A small gold-rush town, with help from neighboring communities, raises $1 million for cancer research at UC Davis

 "" PHOTO — It takes a village: Members of the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund gather at the Placer County Department of Museums. Virgil Traynor is standing in the foreground, third man from the right.
 
It takes a village: Members of the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund gather at the Placer County Department of Museums. Virgil Traynor is standing in the foreground, third man from the right.
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Like most communities, Auburn, Calif., has seen its share of cancer.

But this Gold Rush-era town has done something perhaps no other similar-sized city has accomplished. In a little less than four years, the small city has raised a million dollars for cancer research.

"What made it work was a just cause and a committed community," says Virgil Traynor, an Auburn veterinarian who spearheaded the fund-raising effort with his good friend Dick Azevedo, an Auburn-based businessman.

"This is a first," says Ralph deVere White, director of the UC Davis Cancer Center. "The generous people of Auburn are a model for how fundraising can become a community effort. And they have become great friends."

Auburn is nestled in the Sierra foothills about 35 miles northeast of Sacramento. Once a mining camp known for bear fights and public hangings, the town's Old West origins are still evident. Every April the community welcomes the Wild West Stampede, one of California's oldest rodeos, and crowns a new Miss Auburn Stampede. The town recently dubbed itself "the endurance capital of the world," for its role as host to some of the world's toughest endurance events — the Tevis Cup Western States Trail Ride, for example, a 100-mile horse race from Auburn to Lake Tahoe through rugged Sierra high country, and the Western States Endurance Run/UltraMarathon, a 100-mile run from Squaw Valley over Emigrant Pass to Auburn. About 12,500 people now live within the city limits, and about 44,000 in Auburn and the surrounding area.

The Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund got its start in April 2001. By August of that year, $100,000 had been raised from ten donors.

The other $900,000 came in more slowly, generated during three years of barbecues, golf tournaments, motorcycle rallies and fun runs, as well as from continued personal donations.

It took a community with grit and stamina to raise the million dollars, but a few individuals worked especially hard. Football Hall of Famer Jim Otto, who moved to Auburn after retiring from a storied career with the Oakland Raiders, joined the effort after he completed treatment for prostate cancer at UC Davis Cancer Center.

"The type of cancer I have ... ten years ago, you died," Otto says. "I'm very fortunate, and I wanted to help."

Jim and Sally Otto hosted the first Jim Otto Celebrity Golf Classic in June 2003 at the Auburn Valley Golf Club. Football legends like Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, Daryle Lamonica, Otis Sistrunk and more than two dozen others participated. The event raised $150,000. The second tournament last May, featuring another all-star guest list and also held at the Auburn Valley Country Club, raised $200,000.

Besides Otto, other big names volunteered their help: the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Auburn Harley Davidson, Magnuson Toyota in Auburn, and the Thunder Valley Casino, operated by the United Auburn Indian Community.

More and more individuals in Auburn and nearby towns signed on as well. Recruits included Bart O'Brien, superintendent of the Placer Union High School District, and Bruce Dear, Placer County Assessor.

Cancer touches everyone

As a school administrator, O'Brien works long hours. But he made time when Traynor recruited him. "My mother is a cancer survivor," O'Brien says. "She had surgery 20 years ago, and she's 95 now. All our families have been touched by cancer, and we can all relate to it."

Dear's mother died of cancer at an early age. He was further swayed by the range of participants he encountered at a motorcycle club benefit for the fund.

"Seeing this long line of Harley riders, and the tremendous diversity of the people, and the idea that they're all there raising funds to cure cancer ... That was a striking moment," Dear says.

Dear credits Traynor for keeping the ball rolling. "It's Virgil's energy, rounding the troops up, providing leadership. That's what's made this a success."

New goal

Now that the town has reached the million-dollar mark, organizers have set a new goal: to raise the total to $1.5 million. That will fund, in perpetuity, a faculty chair in basic cancer research at UC Davis Cancer Center. Endowed chairs, one of the highest honors in academia, allow universities to retain or recruit the best minds in each generation.

The endowed chair will be named in honor of the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund. That, too, will be a first. Other endowed chairs at UC Davis have been named after individuals and corporations but never a whole community.

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  "The generous people of Auburn are a model for how fundraising can become a community effort. And they have become great friends." — Ralph deVere White  
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UC DAVIS CANCER CENTER
4501 X Street
Sacramento, CA 95817

cancer.center@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu

© 2005 UC Regents. All rights reserved.

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