It’s the 15th year in a row that Kitty Hoynes in Armory Square shaved hundreds of heads for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that raises funds to find cures for children with cancer.
Luke’s Syracuse Army was one of the biggest teams at Kitty Hoynes this year. Members raised more than $500,000 in honor of Luke Ungerer who was three years old when he died in 2016.
Team Captain Marc Herron says it’s not just about the money, but something much bigger.
“Year after year, we’re able to raise so much funds,” Herron said. “Not just the funds but the awareness of the need for pediatric cancer research.”
Luke’s Dad, Scott Ungerer, says the children who have passed away or are in the fight are reminders that there’s work to be done.
“I think that’s the thing that is a struggle for a lot of people and any of these childhood diseases,” Ungerer said. “They’re innocent and we’ve gotta do more for them.”
Luke was born on February 7, 2012. Scott says it was the best day of his life. Scott and his wife, Sheila Ungerer, waited to know the gender until the day of the birth. Scott remembers seeing so much hair and wondering if it was a boy or girl. It turned out their perfect little boy, Luke, happened to be born with a head full of hair.
That head full of hair eventually had to be shaved after Luke suffered a seizure in 2015. Luke was perfectly healthy until then. Scott and Sheila thought it was a seizure disorder, but doctors discovered a large tumor growing in Luke’s brain. He had brain cancer.
After the diagnosis, Luke had a 12-hour brain surgery, which then led to radiation and rounds of chemotherapy.
None of this helped. Luke’s cancer only progressed. His parents were left with no other options.
Luke passed away on January 14th, 2016. Luke’s Syracuse Army was formed shortly afterwards to honor this brave little boy.
Luke’s legacy is tied to the Central New York community in more ways than one. After the St. Baldrick’s event at Kitty Hoynes, Morgan Road Elementary held and assembly to add some new “shavees” to Luke’s Army.
Team Captain Marc Herron teaches second grade at the school. One of his students, Jason McCormick, shaved his head at Kitty Hoynes and did other things to help the cause.
Jason’s mom, Jennifer McCormick, says it’s important to know that you’re never too small to make a difference.
“My son did a lot of fundraising,” McCormick said. “He made care packages for Golisano Children’s Hospital for Luke’s birthday. He went out and talked to neighbors, collected bottles and cans.”
Luke and his army continue to spolight the strength of his legacy. He’s present in the lives of those he meant so much to, and even to those who never got the chance to meet him.