PETERBOROUGH, ONT. — When you’re the first school in Canada to raise $1 million for the Terry Fox Foundation, your teachers will do a lot to please you.
They’ll shove their faces into bowls of spaghetti sauce, shave their heads and dye their beards rainbow colours.
And when you raise almost $100,000 in a single year to achieve the feat — as St. Peter’s Catholic high school in Peterborough did this year, destroying its previous single-year record — they’ll stage a full-costume-and-makeup dance performance of a Michael Jackson hit.
“For Terry Fox it’s all out for everybody — staff and students,” said Paul Crough, a guidance counsellor at St. Peter’s, still catching his breath from the performance. “The students wanted to see ‘Thriller,’ so that’s what we did.”
Decked out in a red pleather jumpsuit, black wig and full zombie makeup, Crough and about 15 other St. Peter’s teachers made good on their promise to students with a surprisingly adept performance of the iconic dance video.
The students were stunned silent at first, watching in disbelief as their teachers, unflinching in their vacant zombie expressions, mimicked the classic video’s moves to near perfection. The students then squealed with delight.
In the 21 years since St. Peter’s started annual fundraising drives for the Terry Fox Foundation, it has raised $1,057,677, more than any other school in Canada.
Toronto’s Sterling Hall School, a private elementary school in the Dufferin St. and Lawrence Ave. area, has raised $963,000, running a close second.
At St. Peter’s, a school of 1,300 students, raising money for the Terry Fox Foundation has been an enduring tradition and the main outlet for the school’s legendary spirit. A flag proclaiming “Terry Fox Lives Here” flies high outside the front doors.
“When you think of our school, you think Terry Fox,” said Ariane Pinto, 17, the student council president.
A large part of St. Peter’s fundraising success comes from all of the students buying into the cause and taking the initiative to organize events on their own time, outside of school, Pinto added.
Two Grade 11 students, Paul Whipp and James Svetec, raised $1,400 each.
“The kids have really taken ownership of it,” said Fr. Bill Maloney, a former St. Peter’s math teacher who crossed himself before having his bushy white beard shaved into a mean handlebar moustache in front of the entire assembly.
“It’s part of the foundation of this school,” said Joe Webster, an English teacher who helps coordinate the fundraising committee and was the master of ceremonies at Tuesday’s assembly. “It’s just become this machine, this snowball, where every year wants to raise more than the year before. . . . It makes you really proud to be here.”
Cancer has also touched the school in a personal way.
Last year, Grade 12 student Courtney Morrison died after a 19-month battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The year before, Mrs. Pat Smith, a popular hairstyling teacher at the school, died of pancreatic cancer.
“These kinds of things pull us together and make it real,” Webster said. “(The fundraising effort) is a memorial thing, too, in many ways.”
Grade 10 student Cassie Robinson, 13, is currently in remission from lymphoma. She said she stands as a living example of the benefits of cancer research, so it isn’t difficult to convince her classmates why the money is important.
“You feel like you’re part of something special (at St. Peter’s), like every single person in the room is pulling for the same thing.”
“Home of the Saints” is emblazoned in maroon paint across gymnasium wall in St. Peter’s, referring to the school’s sports teams’ nickname.
It’s a fitting title for this generous group of givers.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. Since then $500 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry’s name, according to the Terry Fox Foundation.