Fund-raiser was a close shave

Professor sacrifices mustache, gains $2,000 to fight cancer

June 05, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Jerrold Casway's mustache -- bushy, graying, the size of a mouse -- had taken on a life of its own.

Until yesterday, that is, when, in a public ceremony at Howard Community College in Columbia, it was shaved off and fell like so many sprinkles of pepper onto the floor, over Casway's clothes and into a little plastic bag he held under his nose.

Casway, a 56-year-old history professor and administrator at the community college, agreed in April to shave off his mustache if the college could raise $2,000 to donate to the American Cancer Society's annual Relay for Life fund-raiser, which continues through noon today in Howard County.

Five other Relay for Life events are taking place in the Baltimore area this weekend, said Judy Miller, assistant communications director for the mid-Atlantic division of the American Cancer Society. They are expected to raise $1.1 million to go toward research and education.

Nationally, Relay for Life events are expected to raise $120 million, said Marty Coelho, national marketing director for the program. He said the relay inspires many "old-school fund-raising" efforts such as bake and rummage sales -- and mustache shavings such as Casway's.

In the past several weeks -- ever since graduation -- Casway's facial hair has been the No. 1 topic of conversation at Howard Community College.

There were periodic e-mail updates, such as this one Thursday: "Forty more dollars just came in. Only $290 more to go. Jerry, enjoy your last day of lip cover!"

Later that day, after the college surpassed its goal, there was another message to Casway, labeled "Say BYE! BYE!": "Please bring your favorite razor, scissors, shaving cream and of course, the stache!!"

There were many jokes: "Since you're half way there, does that mean Jerry needs to at least shave 1/2 of his mustache?" And the related query: "If we raise $3,000 will he shave his head?"

Casway had colon cancer several years ago, but he said he would have agreed to shave his mustache regardless. His illness, he said, taught him how much he loves the community college where he has worked for almost 30 years and how much the community college loves him.

"My hospital room was just clogged with people," he said. "I never had realized how much I had become bonded to everyone."

Late Thursday afternoon, the college was several hundred dollars short of its goal, and Casway was clinging to the hope that he could save his mustache, which he has had for more than 20 years and which he described as "like an old friend."

"I keep telling them, `Don't count the hairs until I see the money,' " he said, sitting in his book-lined office at the college.

But the faculty and staff rallied, and they, along with some of Casway's students, gathered in the college's galleria yesterday to see the hair come off to selections from Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville."

Mary Ellen Duncan, the college's president, took time out from interviewing a candidate for the job of chief information technology officer at the college to trim the first several hairs.

"I have rarely gotten the chance to mutilate someone in the faculty before," Duncan said, just before donning plastic gloves and picking up a pair of scissors. "I know he's part crazy, but he's also part devoted to a lot of good causes, and I certainly appreciate it."

About 10 people took turns clipping and shaving. The event took about a half-hour, partly because the mustache was so thick.

When they were finished, a sheared Casway (with a little cluster of stubble just under his nose) thought about his wife, who was out of town for the day.

"My wife is looking forward to it," he said, stroking his newly exposed upper lip. "She'll see the man she married."

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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