BANGOR – Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Pelkey missed her younger sister and brother desperately.
The idea of spending five weeks in Bangor for treatment of leukemia at Eastern Maine Medical Center without sister Hillary and brother Jacob left the Mattamiscontis girl feeling scared.
Then, when her mother, Holly Pelkey, and her siblings were able to move into the Ronald McDonald House down the road from the big hospital, Elizabeth’s spirits brightened.
Because they were with her, Elizabeth found it easier to face the bone marrow transplant she underwent in April 2000.
Surrounded by her family, Elizabeth, now 16, thanked the staff, volunteers and supporters of Ronald McDonald House at a 20th anniversary celebration held Saturday at the house on State Street.
She and her mother tearfully told a crowd that included Gov. John Baldacci and Jimmy Murray, the co-founder of the first Ronald McDonald House, how much the house and its program meant to them.
“I never had to explain to the other kids what it was like to have cancer,” Elizabeth said of an annual retreat program the house sponsors. “There I met my friend Mary, who was five years out of treatment. She had lost a leg to cancer but came to a dance we had in shorts to show off her prosthesis. She was a radiant survivor and she gave me hope.
“Thanks to Ronald McDonald House for all the love, support, friendship and hope you’ve given over the years,” Elizabeth said.
Bangor’s Ronald McDonald House is located just north of Eastern Maine Medical Center. It sits on land purchased from Bangor Mental Health Institute for $1 and has undergone three major renovations since opening on Dec. 16, 1983.
The 14-bedroom facility has served thousands of families that have traveled to Bangor to seek medical treatment in the past 20 years, said Susan Young, president of the board of directors and assistant editor of the Bangor Daily News opinion pages.
About 450 families, mostly from eastern and northern Maine, stay at the house each year, she said.
In a ceremony Saturday, staff and volunteers who have served Bangor’s Ronald McDonald House since its inception were honored along with a group from Washington County Community College who raised $10,000 last year with a January “polar dip” in Passamaquoddy Bay that drew 150 participants and 2,000 spectators.
The husband and wife team of Patricia and Gerald Beckwith Jr. stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Boston in the late 1970s when their daughter, Alisa, was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. When she heard about the house being built in Bangor, Patricia Beckwith applied for the job of house manager and her husband followed.
One her first official tasks was to help a family come to grips with the death of their child. Then, a month after the house marked its first decade, her own daughter died at the age of 30. Patricia Beckwith said Saturday that the families that stayed at Ronald McDonald House “showed me the way even when times were sad.”
Also honored this weekend were Mavis Coupe of Orono, Charleen Giffard of Orrington, Charles “Bill” Tuck and Dan Brooks, both of Bangor. All of them have been volunteering at the house since it opened. Gary Eckmann, owner and operator of some Bangor-area McDonald’s restaurants, also was recognized for his restaurants’ financial support over the years.
For information on Ronald McDonald House and its programs, call 942-9003.