Meet Jere Fluno
When you sit down next to Jere Fluno you are instantly taken in by his gentlemanly mannerism, the heartwarming smile and the passion he shares concerning “finding the cure” for Type I Juvenile Diabetes. It is easy to see why the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation chose him as the Honoree for the 2011 Hope Gala.
Jere resides on Marco Island with his wife seven months out of the year. His hometown is Chicago, Illinois and that’s where the story begins, fifteen years ago. At the time his family had never had to deal with any health challenges of any sort when he received the phone call that changed his life forever. His daughter Julie informed him his little granddaughter, Lauren, then two years of age was just diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. Jere rushed to the hospital to be with his family. “I was the last one to arrive and I remember coming into her room and saw my granddaughter sitting up in this huge hospital bed. I picked her up and held her tiny body in my arms. I just couldn’t put her down or give her back to the doctors. It was the point of feeling helpless for this beautiful little girl.”
Jere lived a full and productive life as the Vice Chairman of W.W. Granger Inc. for 32 years. His philanthropy work has been extensive and wide ranging as trustee of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, emeritus member of the University of Wisconsin School of Business Dean’s Advisory Board, Director and former Chairperson of the University of Wisconsin Foundation and current Chair and Director of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin. There are many more nonprofits on Jere’s list, however, when he was hit with the news of his granddaughter the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation became his top priority. He felt the need to “do something” for his little granddaughter as well as other children facing the same day to day regimen of living with this disease.
Jere talks of his best friend, Ron Santo, a Chicago Cubs baseball legend. “This was a man who had lived with Type I diabetes later in life. Ron taught me that you can live with the disease and was an inspiration to both Lauren and me. Ron served as a good role model, no matter what complications came his way; he always went with the flow and looked on the bright side of life. He gave Lauren courage. The difference between him and Lauren was my granddaughter doesn’t know any different. Living with the disease is something she grew up with and did not have to go through the agony of have and have not. Ron was different; he lived the life of eating what you want, when you want without having to worry if your levels were perfectly balanced. The daily punctures and injections were more of a shock, yet he endured with no complaints. He recently died of complications after losing both legs.
It hit us hard, especially Lauren. This is when she went through her dark period. You have to remember, Lauren’s really good day is an average person’s really bad day. She has been brave through it all, then Ron passed on. She told me,” “It’s been fifteen years, fifteen years grandpa and there still is no cure” “His death brought on a bout of depression for Lauren. Mostly everyone encounters a situation where they go through a dark time period. It’s not uncommon for Type I sufferers to want to give up. I don’t want my granddaughter to give up, she has a bright future and hopes to be a “Badger” and attend the University of Wisconsin like her grandpa, and so I’m determined not to give up either, I won’t stop until a cure is found.”
Jere has worked hard raising money in hopes his granddaughter and all others like her can celebrate the cure. He has organized many events over the years including, “A Walk for the Cure” and “Man of the Year” in Chicago, an event that raised 1.3 million it’s first year. “ I managed to get all the big television personalities such as Mary Tyler Moore and Larry King.” All his fundraising endeavors have amounted to approximately three million dollars. Jere said he is very humbled by the award and feels there are so many people to share it with, however, if it gets the word out to the folks in southwest Florida especially here on Marco Island and Naples, then he is happy to accept it.
Nobody sells the education and awareness better than the children themselves. Jere explained how he tried a new auction in which he collaborated with Sotheby’s in Chicago. “ It was actually nothing more than a cash auction. We started bidding at a few thousand and ended over twenty five thousand. People just raised the paddles to the number of dollars they wanted to donate. Nothing was given out everything was gained.” He felt it wouldn’t have had the impact it had unless his granddaughter had spoken prior to the start of the auction. He remembers she was only seven years old at the time and up until two minutes before her speech she wasn’t going to talk. When her name was announced she got up, walked to the podium, stepped up on a little crate and gave the most heartwarming talk about what she goes through daily. He believed that little speech from the mouth of a babe in front of five hundred people made those paddles wave in the air.
“I have to admit there are times I wonder why, why Lauren, why did this happen in my family? I’ve come to the conclusion that the good Lord doesn’t give you anymore than you can handle. My daughter and son-in-law are great parents. I have such great respect for them. If it had to happen, they are the type of parents who were able to endure the struggle.”
Jere stated Nick Jonas from the Disney sensation “The Jonas Brothers” came out of the closet admitting he had Type I diabetes. This brought the disease out into mainstream America. Disney sponsored a contest for Type I Diabetes kids who submitted videos depicting how they managed their lives in spite of their disease. The top three winners met Nick Jonas and received a three-day stay in Disney. Proud grandpa,Jere, announced Lauren was one of the winners. Nobody knew, not even her parents, that she had even entered until her grandfather made the announcement.
What would Jere like to see in his lifetime? “I have tunnel vision, I just want to see a cure. In the meantime I want all the children, teens and adults afflicted with Type I to live a normal life.”
When asked if he has seen any movement in the right direction he responded. “The good news is $.82 of the dollar goes directly to research. Also we have seen improvements, for example the type of needles developed are much finer and easier to inject. I remember the days of the thick tubular needles that were truly painful to inject yourself with and Bayer (as in the aspirin company) just recently came out with a state of the art blood glucose monitor.”
Jere was honored on February 19th with the “Handprint Of Hope Award” at the Hope Gala Sunset Ball at the Ritz Carlton in Naples. Jere was very modest about accepting the award. “I guess you can say I’m just living the grandfather side of life. I’m not sure I’ve done anymore than any other grandparent would do.”
Part III: The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Sunset Ball on the next Coastal Breeze News edition.