“And we can build this dream together, standing strong forever, nothing’s gonna stop us now.”
– Jefferson Starship
In honor of this year’s relatively mild winter, many Billings residents have been able to spend most of the colder months in little more than light fleece jackets, often choosing to forgo the usual attire of itchy hats and bulky snowboots.
At Rocky Mountain College, a couple of dozen others have also decided to go without hair.
However, this trend did not come about with the intention of celebrating the warm weather, but rather to support a cause close to many of their hearts: cancer research.
On Feb. 11, while Rocky’s gymnasium filled with the energy and stampeding footsteps of a college basketball game, 35 members of the college community either cut off 10 inches of their hair to donate to Locks of Love or went for broke and publicly had their heads shaved in a “HairRaising” fundraiser put on by Rocky’s Relay for Life team, the Rocky Walkers.
What culminated in an exhilarating festival of buzz-cuts that raised over $6,000 for the American Cancer Society began as a simple brainstorm between Rocky student Christina Mark and the college’s chaplain, Kristi Foster, both of whom are battling cancer.
“The funny thing is, we both thought of the idea separately, then worked on it together,” says Mark, a premed student from Germany. A resident assistant in one of the college’s dorms, she first got wind of the idea while attending an RA conference.
“Another school did something like this,” she says, and the results they reported were “overwhelming.”
After some discussion, Mark and Foster, who are members of the Rocky Walkers, presented their idea at a team meeting in early January, and the plans flourished from there, with the aid of several generous donations of resources from both the Rocky and Billings communities.
Kristin Mullaney, the college’s director of Parent Relations and Alumni, recruited the hair-cutting skills of the Academy of Nail, Skin and Hair. On the day of the fund-raiser, a dozen or so well-coiffed supervisors and students from the Academy were on hand to donate their time and talents.
On the night of the event, before participants were sent on to the hairdressers, they stopped at a registration table manned by Rocky Walkers Bob and Robyn Cummings and Deb Wiens, where they paid their registration fee. People were required to raise a minimum of $25 to participate, though most exceeded that by a considerable amount.
Upon registering, each participant was also given a T-shirt. The shirts, designed by Rocky’s SIFE team, read: “Go Bald! Say it loud ... I’m bald & I’m proud!”
The shirts, which were donated, were on sale for $10 through the night of the fundraiser; beginning the next day, the Rocky Walkers continued to offer the leftover shirts at half price until all of them were sold.
After registering, participants were whisked into the bustling gym, where four hair-cutting stations were set up on generous lengths of plastic tarp on the sideline, so the entire process could be watched by the basketball game’s audience, as well as the growing crowd of professional and amateur photographers.
While waiting their turn, each person had a “before” picture taken either by me or by Rocky freshman Caitrin Smith. After the initial quick shaving or ponytail-cutting, participants were ushered into the small gym to have their hair more slowly, thoroughly tidied up.
There, they posed for an “after” portrait and were given a final token of appreciation: a handmade hat in yellow and green, to reflect Rocky’s school colors of green and gold. Foster, an avid knitter, elicited the help of her on-campus and off-campus friends in making the hats, which ranged from knitted beanies to funky, Dr. Seuss-esque felt top hats.
Among those who opted to go prematurely bald were several of Rocky’s better-known staff and faculty members. To engage the game’s spectators, these participants had their heads shaved together at halftime, while their names were announced over the loudspeaker.
Faculty participants included biology and environmental science professor Kayhan Ostovar, whose dark curls went to Locks of Love; art professor Mark Moak, who shaved off the facial hair that his students and colleagues have come to know him by; business professor Scott Severance, who had his head shaved; and biology professor Phil Jensen, who sacrificed his shoulder-length red tresses.
Staff participants who had their heads shaved included Fran Bergum, who helps operate the campus bookstore, as well as Foster’s husband, Rob Peterson, who works in Central Operations.
When asked her impression of the fund-raiser’s turnout, Mark says she is touched by the number of people who contributed their time, energy, and hair to the cause.
“I truly didn’t think so many people would actually shave their head for this, for cancer,” she says. Originally, she and Foster predicted that about 20 people might participate, and they set a seemingly lofty goal of $2,000. As it is, “we more than tripled that, and we’re still receiving checks from people who wanted to donate,” she says.
I, too, am touched by the generosity of people in my life who donated so enthusiastically.
Shortly after the January team meeting, I posted an offhand status update on my Facebook page that read: “If I can raise $200 for my Relay for Life team, I will shave off what’s left of my hair!” This casual comment garnered dozens of comments and over $330 in donations, all for thin, unruly brown curls that were already falling out due to my own health condition.
“I’m happy to donate; this is a cause that is very near and dear to me,” stated one donor, former Rocky student Teri Ann Frey, who went on to tell me about her numerous relatives who have battled cancer.
Sadly, this fact hit home with most of our team members, who have either been diagnosed with cancer themselves or have helped loved ones fight it. Posing with me for my “before” picture was a success story, as well as one of the reasons I participate: my mother, a colon cancer survivor who has been in remission since 2004.
The positive side of it is that, with each Relay for Life fundraising event held and each dollar donated to research, we come a little closer to uncovering a cure, and meanwhile continue to advance technology to provide more treatment options.
Hence, in the wake of the HairRaising’s success, the Rocky Walkers are already planning their next fundraising event: the annual Taco Bar, which will be held in mid-March and is open to the public.
As is the case for most of their fund-raisers, the cost to attend this one is however much money one chooses to donate to the ACS, and includes a taco buffet with all the fixings, a drink, and the famously-delicious cookies home-baked by Rocky biology professor Claire Oakley.