Helper of cancer patients faces own need Her good works continue in role as 'Sunrise'

October 05, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

As Sunrise the Clown, Jan Emmons has helped raise more than $40,000 for cancer research over the last 15 years. She clowned for cancer patients and organized a retreat.

But after her husband died unexpectedly last month, she was left with debts and no way to pay them.

Though she is reluctant to talk about it, friends say the 40-year-old receptionist -- who was named Most Beautiful Person in Anne Arundel County last year for her volunteer work -- has nearly $5,000 in debts from the funeral because her husband had no life insurance.

She faces difficulties with mortgage payments on the couple's South County home because she won't receive any Social Security benefits from her husband's job until she is much older. Mrs. Emmons has no relatives close by; her immediate family members are dead, including her mother and 10 others who died of cancer.

"She's devastated; she has hardly anybody, and she did a lot for people in our area," Tina Creekmore, one of Mrs. Emmons' Shady Side neighbors, said last week.

Mr. Emmons, who would have been 40 in August, died of three brain aneurysms after an illness of a few days. "He was my soul-mate, my best friend," said Mrs. Emmons of her husband of 12 years, a BMW mechanic and master technician.

In the month since Mr. Emmons' death, Mrs. Emmons hasn't been able to sleep through the night. She wanted to give up her clowning work, and she cries when she sees pictures of her late husband.

Financially, "there's nothing out there to help," she admitted recently.

Her grief is at odds with her persona as Sunrise, the clown of rainbow wigs and endless kindness to cancer patients and their families.

She dons her clown costumes to shower presents on children who have cancer. Her balloon animals and puppets are a familiar sight in cancer wards from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to Children's Hospital in Washington.

A year ago she organized a fund-raiser in Deale that raised enough money to send Todd Paulus, a 12-year-old who had cancer, to Disney World with his parents before he died last spring.

She organized Fantasy Valley in Southern Maryland as a retreat for cancer patients and their families. Last week, she received a Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service. She was chosen from 60,000 entries.

Even when her husband died, Mrs. Emmons continued to give by donating his organs. His heart went to a 42-year-old Maryland man. His liver, kidneys and corneas went to people in need, including a local minister and a little girl in Florida.

"I had to make sense out of the tragedy. I knew it was something he'd want me to do," says Mrs. Emmons. "For the first month, I've wanted to give up [charitable work], but I know he wouldn't want me to."

And she hasn't. She's organizing a dinner dance at the Knights of Columbus in Bowie in December to benefit the Sunrise Foundation Inc. and the Knights of Columbus.

She's even planning to be master of ceremonies at this year's Most Beautiful People contest reception, said Karen Henry, the volunteer coordinator for the county's Community Service Department.

Mrs. Emmons is adamant about not wanting pity. "I'm not sappy," she said. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me. Helping people is my best medicine."

But neighbors want her to know they have not forgotten all she has done for their community, said Mrs. Creekmore, who is receiving donations for Sunrise at a post office box.

Those wishing to donate to a fund started by neighbors to help Mrs. Emmons may send contributions addressed to her, c/o P.O. Box 428, Shady Side 20764.

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