Bertram Rantin

Rantin: Close shave for young cancer patients

Ralph Schmidt cast an anxious glance in the direction of the electric shaver and braced himself before the gym packed with screaming high school students.

It was, after all, a $22,000 shave and the first in nearly 35 years for the Richland Northeast High School principal.

But Friday, Schmidt, kept a pledge to charity as he said goodbye to the mustache he had sported since 1975.

The principal had agreed earlier in the school year to cut the mustache if the community raised $15,000 for Camp Kemo, a summer camp for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings.

The hope was to raise the money by the end of the school year, but the drive topped $15,000 before winter break and has since collected another $6,000.

"This is true service learning at its best," Schmidt said of the "Cash for the Stache" drive that has captivated the school community and others in surrounding areas. "I'm just blown away."

Schmidt originally accepted the challenge in October at the urging of Richland Northeast senior Caleb Brown, whose mother lost a three-year battle with cancer last summer.

Brown has spearheaded most of the fundraising, forming the "KEMOsabies" at the school.

Friday, he assumed the shaving honors as he carefully trimmed Schmidt's mustache during the schoolwide pep rally - revealing a bare face that even Schmidt's wife, Jeanne, and their daughters, Amy and Haley, had never seen.

The three all looked on along with Schmidt's mother, Agnes.

After the shaving, Brown and other students presented Jeanne Schmidt, Camp Kemo's director the past 10 years, a check for $22,538. That will pay for more than 40 youngsters to go to camp this summer.

"I'm ecstatic," Caleb said. "It's just such a great way to honor my mom and all the other cancer patients."

Caleb was embraced at Friday's rally by his father, Larry Brown, who said he was moved by the outpouring of support.

"I was more emotional that I expected to be," Brown said. "This is a good lesson for him."

Friday's pep rally capped a weeklong spirit week at the school.

Students, teachers and staff members wore fake mustaches in support of Schmidt, who received a police escort to a cell in the middle of the gym before taking his seat in the chair.

And while standing bare-faced for the first time since his high school days, Schmidt told students he couldn't have more admiration for their unselfishness.

"I might be stripped of my mustache, but I'm not stripped of my pride for each of you," he said.

Since the "Cash for the Stache" drive was launched, it has garnered widespread community support, including a $1,000 gift from one of Schmidt's former middle school teachers and another $1,000 contribution in honor of Caleb's mother.

But Schmidt, who lost his sister to cancer three years ago, said the larger contributions had combined with the many more smaller ones to make the effort a success.

"Some people think that the $5, $10 and $15 donations don't make a difference, but you can just see how powerful they are," he said.