Mark Dantonio, Okemos couple continue to help with diabetes research
Having raised just over $275,000 in the last year, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or
JDRF One Walk in East Lansing continues to attract Spartan faithful as a staple event every year.
JDRF is the leading global organization funding Type 1 diabetes research. The organization institutes country-wide walks aimed to raise money and awareness for research. Each year during the first weekend in August, families supporting diabetes research line the streets of Michigan State's campus and participate in the JDRF One Walk.
But, there wasn't always a walk in East Lansing.
In 2004, when MSU donors Ron and Carol Dooley received word their four-year-old grandson Jack had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the Okemos residents decided to foster their own walk location in East Lansing after participating in a walk held in Ann Arbor.
“We had a meeting at Sparrow Hospital and formed a committee to start a walk in East Lansing,” Ron said. “At the time, the JDRF organization in Detroit wouldn’t give us any money or do anything for us because they didn’t know if this thing was going to fly.”
So, in order to establish the event in East Lansing, the Dooley’s coordinated with former MSU football Head Coach John L. Smith, who was also looking to start a fundraiser for type 1 diabetes.
“It was all done by local people and John L. Smith. The first year we did it, we raised $90,000 which was – with just local people – a lot of money. The organization (JDRF) – we got their attention. The next year we did it again and they helped us, and we raised a little more money,” Ron Dooley explained.
But it wasn’t until the next head football coach – current Head Coach Mark Dantonio – came in that the event would become as prevalent as it is today. Despite having a limited knowledge of diabetes at the time, Dantonio agreed to be the honorary chair of the event.
“He’s (Dantonio) been here 12 years and he’s done it every year," Ron said. "He told us, 'I'm going to do this and I'll do it every year, as long as I can.' ... He’s a man of his word and really a wonderful man.”
“When I first came here, I got involved with JDRF and I didn’t know too much about juvenile diabetes,” Dantonio said.
Eventually, the event did come to affect Dantonio on a personal level when former MSU linebacker Brandon Denson, who is type 1 diabetic, joined Dantonio's team in 2005.
Perhaps the main reason for the event’s success under Dantonio results from his on-the-field success. As the Spartan athletes come to sign autographs and interact with families at the walk, they help create a personable atmosphere which has bolstered the walk’s publicity.
“It’s a huge draw for families, especially if they’re Michigan State fans,” Carol said.
Those who've attended the event over its 14-year existence have witnessed the presence of notable Spartan football figures, along with Dantonio. This past year, the event showcased the likes of quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back L.J. Scott and linebacker Joe Bachie.
Ron estimates the walk having raised over 3 million dollars since its inception.
Dantonio reflected on JDRF and talked about its significance over the years: “I’ve seen young people that were 9 years old when I first started going. Now they’re 22 years old or 21 years old. I meet them as grown-ups now and they’re doing very well.”
“It’s been a humbling experience for me."
Another notable aspect of the money that's raised is its contribution not only to JDRF, but also to MSU's diabetic retinopathy research. Because diabetes also causes damaging effects to eyesight, MSU researchers use a portion of contributed funds to conduct retinopathy research.