Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
They came, of course, to see Aaron Rodgers.
And why not? The Packers QB headlined Tuesday’s MACC Fund event at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee. His name was right there in the title – An Evening with Aaron Rodgers. It was the fourth time he’d set aside a night to raise money for the charity’s fight against childhood cancer and blood disorders. Combine this latest edition with three previous ones, and lifetime donations stemming from the effort were expected to pass the $1 million mark.
People came to see other sports stars, too. Not only John McGlocklin, the Milwaukee Bucks stalwart and the MACC Fund’s founder, but also Andy North, the two-time U.S. Open winner and one of the best golfers Wisconsin has ever produced. Oh, and some guy named Bart Starr, who blazed just a few Green Bay quarterbacking trails before Rodgers came on the scene.
They all shared the stage with Rodgers, exchanging friendly banter and words of wisdom, answering questions posed by the night’s moderator, Jason Wilde of 540 ESPN Milwaukee. For the hundreds in attendance, they were the centers of attention.
But they were not the central focus.
For that, you had to take your eyes off the stage. You had to look around the audience, see the children and young adults and families whose lives have been directly affected by the MACC Fund.
Somewhere among the sea of tables was Dijon Williams, a onetime sufferer from sickle cell anemia, now one more boy who’s cured of it. You might remember his story from the ItsAaron commercials, which chronicled Rodgers’ surprise visit to Dijon’s Milwaukee home. Tonight, they shared a room again, though they’d exchanged the T-shirts and jeans for some slightly dressier clothes.
Earlier in the evening, Dijon had been out in the hotel lobby, accepting plenty of greetings and handshakes and hugs. Among those stopping by were Dr. David Margolis, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin program director of blood and marrow transplants, a man whose work benefits so much from the MACC Fund. The good doctor’s orders to Dijon for the night: “Have fun.”
The stars of the two other Its Aaron ads - Belgium’s Brandon Novack and Brookfield’s Maggie Conlon -were also enjoying the early-evening energy in the hotel lobby. They smiled wide during interviews with TMJ4’s Lance Allan and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Lori Nickel, speaking of their appreciation for Rodgers and the MACC Fund. Both had survived their ordeals with cancer. They showed no signs of the ordeals now.
Their stories and smiles are just three among the thousands that have had a chapter penned by the MACC Fund. Audience members saw more such stories toward the end of the evening, when a phalanx of children lined the stage. They had all been part of the MACC Fund’s Twelve Days of Christmas, another fundraising effort that in which Rodgers had played a role.
The gathered masses had just finished spending some $60,000 during the evening’s auction, their money securing items autographed by Rodgers and other sports stars. Now, the children presented Rodgers with a frame containing all of their photos and all of their signatures.
And Rodgers, the man everyone had come to see, said a few words about the people that he’d come to see.
“These are my heroes,” Rodgers said. “This is why we do it.”
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