‘Ride with Claudia’ fund launched for cancer patients

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Chad McIntyre, general manager of M&M PowerSports in Hancock, presents a check to Portage Health Foundation Executive Director Kevin Store for $83,000 establishing the Ride with Claudia Transportation Fund. Between them are Julie (Keller) Dornbusch and Nick Keller of the Keller Family Community Foundation, which has raised more than $500,000 to help cancer patients through Keller’s snowmobile rides.

HANCOCK — A new endowed fund at the Portage Health Foundation will help ease the burden on cancer patients traveling for treatment.

Friday, the PHF and Keller Family Community Foundation announced the Ride with Claudia Transportation Fund. The money goes towards buying gas cards for cancer patients.

The KFCF provided an $83,000 initial endowment for the fund at a press conference announcing the fund Friday. It had already been partnering with the PHF on the gas cards for the past 10 years, raising $28,000 to date. Since the program started, 142 people have received cards, which give them $150 for gas.

“They’ve been very good stewards of the money, very good stewards of the program, and that relationship has continued to grow,” said Julie (Keller) Dornbusch, president of the KFCF. “Now our foundation is raising enough money that we are able to start endowments so that we can hopefully carry on a gas card program here for as long as they have a health facility here.”

The issue is a personal one for the Keller family. Snowmobiler Nick Keller’s mother died from breast cancer at the age of 56. The fund is named for his friend Claudia McIntyre, who died of cancer in 2011, on the final day of Keller’s second world-record snowmobile run.

Keller remembered her through his snowmobile, which he named Claudia.

“Claudia became a good friend of mine after spending many hours on the trail alone,” he said. “Not as a dear friend, but almost a mother figure. She helped me through a lot of dark days.”

Claudia’s son, M&M Power Sports general manager Chad McIntyre, presented the check to the Portage Health Foundation at the shop Friday.

“My mom would be proud, because like Nick, she was always one that liked to help and not take any credit,” he said. “It’s an honor to see it all come together.”

The Keller family has given more than $500,000 to cancer patients in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota over the past decade.

As Keller was approaching his 56th birthday, he wanted to do something in memory of his mother. His snowmobile dealer mentioned something he’d seen about a world record for most miles ridden on a snowmobile over a 60-day period.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I probably could do that, but I’d want to do it for something,'” Dornbusch said of her father.

The family decided to raise money to help cancer patients. Other funds already covered things like houses for patients to stay at when they were seeking treatment. But they hadn’t seen anything about funds to help patients cover travel costs.

Keller broke the world record for a 60-day snowmobile ride, raising money by selling sponsorship spots on the snowmobile. Then he broke the record again.

The Kellers also raise funds through the Valentine 500, an annual ride where Nick Keller and others collect pledges and try to ride 500 miles in one day. The ride, which will take place Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, starts and ends at the Lake Gogebic Motel in Bergland.

“We thought it’d be a small family project, and it’s blossomed into what it is,” Keller said. “… We figured a few years ago, 100,000 miles on a sled, we’d quit. We just kept moving on. Now we call it our winter job.”

To donate to the Ride With Claudia Transportation Fund, go to phfgive.org. For more information on the Valentine 500, go to snowballcancer.org/v500.


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