Turtle race raises fundsfor hospital

by Brian Bakst

Howard Schwartz left his office in the radiology department Thursday morning to head for the turtle races.
Schwartz, the department’s administrative director, has sponsored a turtle in the University-Variety Hospital for Children’s Turtle Derby every year since the event began in 1987. Until this year, a Schwartz-sponsored turtle has never made it past the first round of the races. But Schwartz doesn’t sponsor turtles just to win races.
He wants to support the hospital and the children it serves. Schwartz’s daughter has been in and out of the hospital for 16 years. “We have kids with very special needs,” he said. “This is something the kids can actually participate in.”
A crowd of more than 300 gathered at the Diehl Hall plaza to cheer for their favorite turtles, bask in the sun and eat turtle sundaes made with chocolate sauce, nuts, cherries and vanilla ice cream. Turtle Derby Comittee Chairwoman Joellen Johnson said the three goals of the annual derby are to raise money, bring people throughout the health sciences together and have a good time.
About 100 University departments and individuals paid between $30 and $50 to sponsor turtles in the derby, Johnson said.
Johnson, who is also a supervisor in the University Hospital’s Department of Protection Services, expects this year’s event to bring in $10,000, which will go toward programming for children at the University Hospital.
Cassie Carlone, a first-year medical student who dressed up as a turtle, danced with kids and led turtle cheers between each race. Carlone has been the derby mascot for two years. Being in Medical School and “just knowing that all of the money goes to the children,” makes her feel good about participating, she said.
For some people, such as Marjean Waldow, the Turtle Derby symbolizes hope for hospitalized children. Her son, Jeffrey, designed the 1989 derby emblem but died from cancer two weeks before derby day. Waldrow and other family members drove from Willow Lake, S.D. to watch this, their fifth, derby.
The derby emblem is always designed by a patient in the children’s hospital. Tara Burkholder, 9, designed this year’s emblem after a University Hospital doctor encouraged her to submit an entry.
In the final race, one determined turtle, Jodi, took first place by edging over the finish line just ahead of Nils Hustle-more. Jodi was sponsored by Jackie Howard, a seven-year-old patient.