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Jefferson Awards
The Nobel Prize for Volunteer Service

In 1972 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard founded the American Institute for Public Service to establish a Nobel Prize for public and community service, the Jefferson Awards. They were established to encourage and honor individuals for their achievements and contributions through public and community service.

The Jefferson Awards are presented on two levels: national and local. National award recipients represent a "Who's Who" of outstanding Americans, Past winners include Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Dole, Bill and Melinda Gates and Lance Armstrong. On the local level, Jefferson Award recipients are "Unsung Heroes" who give selflessly of themselves to benefit their local communities. To help identify and celebrate these "Unsung Heroes," in 1977 the institute developed a partnership with Media Sponsors - local newspapers and television stations. Pittsburgh is one of 93 cities promoting volunteerism via the Jefferson Awards. The Post-Gazette was one of the original media partners.

Arensons honored for raising $725,000 for pancreatic cancer research
By Craig Rice, Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Taking up almost half of the honoree seats on stage during last week's 2004 Jefferson Award presentation at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland were the Arensons, the only family to be honored with what is considered the Noble Prize of community service.
Of the 11 people presented with the Jefferson Award, five were Arensons.

This family, which once lived in Scott, was honored for its tireless fund- raising efforts that have resulted in the collection of more than $725,000 over 10 years and counting for research toward a vaccine for pancreatic cancer, the cause of Nathan S. Arenson's death at 67.

Nathan was a husband, a father and a grandfather on his last earthly day, May 31, 1995.

Milt Arenson, 45, son of Nathan, received the Jefferson Award on behalf of the family. He said his father missed many things over the past 10 years including not knowing five of his nine grandchildren. But because of the Nathan S. Arenson Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research, they all know his name.

"Our family wanted to make a difference," said Milt, a Los Angeles sports merchandiser. "One day, we can all look back and know that we had something to do with helping find a cure for pancreatic cancer."

For being honored, the Arensons received a $1,000 donation from PNC Foundation that went into the research fund, bronze medallions and a chance to be chosen to go to the national Jefferson Awards in Washington D.C.

In late 1993, Nathan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after becoming ill.

Doctors said there was nothing they could do to save him. Not even if they would have caught the malignant cells when they first sprouted, and definitely not the day his skin turned yellow from jaundice.

Lisa Arenson Gillespie, 47, daughter of Nathan, remembers the frustrations of wanting to know more. They saw breast cancer and colon cancer pamphlets, but little information on pancreatic cancer existed.

"We could not get any answers, and of course we were in denial and didn't want to hear it," Lisa, a Scott resident, says. "When they diagnosed him, it was too late. It is just that kind of insidious disease."

The National Cancer Institute estimated that 31,860 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004 and 31,270 of them died before Jan.1, 2005.

Dr. Olivera Finn, chair and professor in the department of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the school's cancer institute, has been working on a vaccine for pancreatic cancer for the last 16 years. She said information on this type of cancer was not widely available 10 years ago because it does not affect as many people as other cancers. Since then, it has become easier to obtain.

Just before Nathan's death, his wife, Adrienne Arenson, established the memorial fund with the thought of helping other families in similar situations.

David and Michael Arenson, Lisa's sons, suggested the Hoops for A Cure basketball games as a means to raise money.

The upcoming games on April 22 will be the 10th annual at Chartiers Valley High School, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again scheduled to play a Chartiers Valley alumni team in the featured event.

They sell shirts, hats and merchandise and all the proceeds go the research fund, which in turn, goes to Finn.

After the family interviewed several doctors, they decided that every dollar of their efforts, without deducting one penny for administrative cost, would be directed to Finn.

"They have been solely responsible up until now for maintaining our funding for clinical research," Finn said. "Our basic research is funded through the National Cancer Institute. Our ability to translate that into the clinic has been very much facilitated by the fund."

Some 10 years ago there was little grant money available and the Arenson fund solely supported their clinical trials, Finn said. Grants became more available during the Clinton administration and so the family's efforts have been used a financial cushion ensuring the operation's continuation.

"They keep our program going regardless of who we have in the White House," Finn said.

"I really don't think that people understand the level of effort it takes to do what they are doing. These are people busy with their own lives and they take time on a daily basis to encourage people to donate."

The Arensons expressed optimism that being recognized for such a prestigious award would bring their fund a corporate sponsor, but the family is not expecting anything except exerting more elbow grease to help find a cure.

"We are a family backing [Finn] and we work hard for it," Lisa said. "We are not sitting there writing a check; we are not that kind of family. We don't have that kind of cash. We are just like everyone else."