“Shaving the way to conquer kids’ cancer” is how the St. Baldrick’s Foundation describes their mission. After Saturday’s event at Cathy O’Clarke’s on Collier Boulevard, the organization is a couple dozen heads and several thousand dollars closer to their goal.
Fifteen gentlemen — no ladies — gave their hair for the cause, after soliciting contributions from friends and family. Supporters packed Cathy O’Clarke’s outside terrace, including County Commission chair Donna Fiala, cheering and clapping as volunteer barbers clipped away.
Participants ranged from a number of seasoned citizens, many of whom had already lost much of their hair to male pattern baldness, down to seven-year-old Brady Wilhite of St. Louis.
“The girls at my school didn’t want me to get shaved,” he said, which the women in attendance were quick to attribute to his beautiful head of chestnut hair. “But all the boys wanted me to do it.”
Wilhite is a veteran of St. Baldrick’s. Last year, he talked two of his teachers into participating in the event, as well as having his own head shaved, and raised thousands of dollars single-handedly.
Sharing the clipping duties were Russ Azolina, owner of Marco Island Barbershop, and Jessica Clarke, owner of South Beach Hair Salon. Azolina trimmed Brady Wilhite’s hair into a monk’s tonsure before giving him the full Kojak. Clarke shaved the head of Greg Mann, her significant other and owner of Blue Marlin Marine, after first sculpting his hair into an impromptu Mohawk.
Sean Gorman, 12, of Naples, and his dad Tim, who owns Gorman’s Auto Service, got matching father and son clips. Gorman employees Jason Carlin and Warren Marsh also got shaved. With the addition of Marsh’s brother Shawn, the team called themselves “Four Bald Tires and a Spare.”
“One thing I notice,” said Jan Zilch of Marco, whose husband Pat was among the shorn, “these men are so handsome without hair.”
Ryan Higgins of Marco, a man with some serious hair to lose, held the mirror to show shavees their results while waiting his turn under the clippers, and Dolly Schneidwind at the microphone provided running commentary for each cut.
Mike Assaf, St. Baldrick’s event organizer, was the final victim to be “scalped.” When he was done, the event had raised over $6,300 for childhood cancer research, with more still to come. Assaf was quick to credit the help received from Cathy O’Clarke’s.
“Cathy O’Clarke’s has given us just phenomenal support,” he said. “From the first day I walked in, they not only gave us a place to do this, they’ve come up with ways to help us raise more money.”
At Cathy O’Clarke’s big St. Patrick’s Day bash the cover charge money will go to St. Baldrick’s, confirmed manager Debbie Day.
“They get the gate,” she said, “and we’re expecting quite a crowd.” Entertainment includes bands inside and outside, Irish step dancers and bagpipers. Robin O’Donoghue, their Irish musician, is one of the men who gave their hair for cancer research.
Day says the restaurant plans to host St. Baldrick’s Day again next year.
“It went great,” she said. “Next year, we’ll get Mel Slawick (Cathy O’Clarke’s owner) and make him cut his hair.”
Since its 2000 beginning in Chicago, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has raised over $31 million to support research for childhood cancer. The impetus came from “three guys in a bar,” executives in the reinsurance business, looking for a way to give back and make a positive impact.
Mike Assaf was part of that industry, participated in the events in Chicago and saw their tremendous growth and popularity.
Plus, he said, “A friend of mine has two grandchildren who were affected by cancer. These are real kids’ lives we’re talking about.”
When he retired to Marco, he realized St. Baldrick’s was not represented on the island, and took on the task of getting it started.
Last year’s inaugural event on Marco saw five men shaved and raised $2,500. This year, the number of participants tripled, and Assaf is confident that by the time they add it all up, the dollar volume will do the same.
So if you notice a guy walking around Marco Island with his head newly shaved, congratulate him for a job well done and remind him to be sure to use plenty of sunscreen.