The vision of a dying child

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • Star Tribune
  • September 6, 2010 - 6:10 PM

Just before 13-year-old Katie Hageboeck died, she asked her parents to take the money she had saved for a 10-speed bike and donate it to a fledgling group formed to fund cancer research.

That was 1979. Since then, Katie's $500 savings has snowballed into $75 million worth of cancer research at the University of Minnesota, thanks to the Children's Cancer Research Fund launched by her parents.

This year marks the fund's 30th anniversary, an event that still amazes parents Diana and Norm Hageboeck of Wayzata.

"We had no intention of starting anything like this,'' said Diana Hageboeck, recalling the first meeting in her living room with family and friends to brainstorm about fundraising ideas.

"But once it got going, it wouldn't stop,'' she said. "So here we are, 30 years later.''

The research fund now has a $10 million annual budget, a staff of 17, and is one of the nation's largest private funders of pediatric cancer research, said its CEO, John Hallberg.

But when Katie passed away, the small fund had no office, no board of directors, no fundraisers -- not even a letterhead or logo.

The Hageboecks set out to change that. Tapping friends and neighbors, they took the scary step of purchasing tickets for an entire theater production in 1980, and then resold each seat for $100. Their children gave out donated cheese and crackers during intermission. That first fundraiser netted $50,000, and they never looked back.

Fundraising wasn't exactly second nature to the Hageboecks. Norm was a senior buyer at Target Corp. and Diana raised two children and volunteered. But strong boards of directors and volunteers made the difference, she said.

To mark the anniversary, the fund's website is spotlighting 30 children fighting cancer. The University of Minnesota is holding a recognition event. And the annual fundraiser will be held in November at The Depot in Minneapolis. Said Hageboeck: "It's all because of the wisdom of a 13-year-old who knew she wouldn't live."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

© 2018 Star Tribune