Jackson Hole financier Foster Friess and his wife, Lynn, chose 400 people to each find a charity to receive $100,000 from the Lynn and Foster Friess Family Foundation as 2020 came to a close. Casper’s Jason’s Friends Foundation is one of those. We chatted with both longtime Wyoming legislator Eli Bebout, who chose Jason’s Friends, and Jason’s Friends executive director, Lisa Eades, about the exciting news.
Eli, tell us how this happened. It’s wonderful, generous. He’s an incredible person anyway. I almost had a tear in my eye when he told me what he wanted me to do. I thought and thought and came up with three causes if you will that I really like. The Central Wyoming College equine program, the Riverton Medical District to help get our hospital going, and Jason’s Friends over there in Casper. I told Foster that I had three that I really like and maybe we could split it. Then he called me back and said no, all three are getting $100,000 in your name.
And what’s your connection with Jason’s Friends Foundation? You know, I’m a two-time survivor of cancer. And I knew about Rocky and Lisa’s son (Jason, for whom the foundation is named, died in 1995 of brain stem cancer). When I was down at M.D. Anderson in Houston getting my treatment, I’d see the young children and it was uplifting to see how happy they were, even as sick as they were. They just had this peace about them, and I’ve never forgotten that. Then I served as an advisory capacity for the Wyoming Cancer Coalition, which Lisa was very involved in, and that’s how I got to know her.
Tell us how your retirement is going. I retired, did not run again, so this is my first winter without it. I served 28 years, 14 in the House and retired as speaker, then 14 in the Senate and stepped down after serving as president. Having this void is very different. Usually I’d have 300 to 400 emails a day, so I’m having to cope with that. Glad for your call.
Lisa, how did you find out about this? Eli actually contacted Rocky just a couple of weeks ago and explained that in honor of his retirement, Foster Friess wanted to do a donation and that a significant gift would be coming our way. We were totally unaware and really unaware of what that number was going to be, and then we got a letter in the mail dated December 28 with a check for $100,000.
So this is a big boost, right? Particularly in light of what’s been happening with the pandemic and our numbers may be down with our big fundraiser, Bowl for Jason’s Friends, this is huge.
Tell us about your family count and remind folks what you help with. Today we are serving 145 families with children birth to age 21 in Wyoming who have cancer. Some age out, some get to the point where they don’t need us anymore, but we have one family whose 12-year-old is on his fourth recurrence of cancer. Some are in the thick of the battle, some are doing retests, they are all leaving the state because there still is no care for pediatric cancer in this state, so they are going to Denver or Salt Lake or farther for treatment. This is the help that keeps these families with a house to come home to, a car with gas that can get to appointments, food and housing while their child is getting treatment. This is the help that lets them be with their child and not worry about how the rent or mortgage or light bill will be paid.
How will you use this particular donation? I got in touch with Sen. Bebout and asked him specifically if he wanted to earmark this. We have an endowment that the Ruth Ellbogen Foundation generously set up for us. Eli said he wanted half to go to families we are currently helping and half go toward families we will help in the future, meaning the endowment, so that is what we are doing.
And there is some news about your fundraiser. Out of an abundance of caution because of the pandemic and working with our generous host, El Mark-O Lanes, we have moved the 23rd annual Bowl for Jason’s Friends from its traditional first weekend of March date to April 24 for this year only.
Bowling for Jason’s Friends really is your only fundraiser, aside from $100,000 checks in the mail. How did you do last year? We had an incredible year and we were so fortunate. We made $365,000 after expenses in one day, and the very next weekend the state shut down. We have paid out almost $5.7 million to families in the 25 years that our foundation has been up and running.
Follow Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @wyosas.