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A love of mine.

a love of mine

A little boy stood outside the glass doors, tears streaming down his face. In his hands, he clutched a worn and crumpled brown paper l bag containing about $24. But he was too late.

The little boy had walked up and down the streets of his neighborhood, asking other children to donate to his cause. He was collecting money to help people with arthritis. And when he had collected quite a large sum of money for a boy of about nine years, he climbed on a bus and made the hour-long journey to the site of the Arthritis Foundation's telethon, hoping to present his heartfelt donation in person.

TThe telethon was in the final few minutes of a 19-hour show. When the boy arrived, he was told that he couldn't come in because the show was almost over. His hopes and plans were shattered -- his hard work was for nothing. So he stood outside the door and cried.

Meanwhile, actress Jane Wyman, who was serving as telethon host, was winding down the show. A concerned volunteer whispered to her that a very dejected little boy who had traveled a long way to present his donation was crying outside.

"Bring him in!" Ms. Wyman exclaimed. So the boy was escorted onstage, wiping away tears with his crumpled bag, to present his donation on live television. His mission was complete, and a look of joy replaced the tears.

Of all the memories of her years serving as an Arthritis Foundation volunteer -- and she has many -- that little boy is one that Jane Wyman has never forgotten.

"He was so sincere and so dear," she recalls. "That's the kind of dedication and love that really makes a difference in the work of the Arthritis Foundation."

Dedication and love are subjects Ms. Wyman is abundantly qualified to speak about. She has spent almost a quarter of a century working to make life better for people with arthritis.

Adopting a cause

Though the younger generation identifies actress Jane Wyman with her current role as wealthy wine baroness Angela Channing in the CBS-TV hit series, "Falcon Crest," people who've been around a little longer know that her fame goes back many years -- to the days when she reigned as one of Hollywood's famous glamour queens in the 1940's and 50's.

When Ms. Wyman turned her attention to the arthritis cause in the late 60's, she had already appeared in more than 40 films, including the movie "Johnny Belinda," which earned her a 1948 Academy Award. She was ready to take a break from the big screen for awhile and tackle something that was a lot less glamorous but just as rewarding -- the fight against arthritis.

"I was at a friend's house for dinner one night, and afterward we were sitting in the living room talking," Ms. Wyman recalls. "All of a sudden my friend just curled up into a ball and couldn't move. It was a very frightening experience, and it turned out to be her first flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis.

"After that, I called a very dear friend of mine who was on the Board of Directors for the Arthritis Foundation's Southern California Chapter and said I'd be delighted to do anything I could to help. And l that's how I got started," she explains.

Getting the word out

That was just the beginning of Ms.Wyman's more than 20 years of working diligently in any number of capacities for the Arthritis Foundation. She became extremely active with the Southern California Chapter, acting as their telethon host and serving on several of the chapter's decision-making committees.

"I became fascinated with the idea that there must be a way to educate people about arthritis," she says. "We turned the telethon around to emphasize to people who had arthritis that there was a spokesman out there for them and an organization fighting for them. That was one of the most important things we wanted to do.

"Next, we wanted to make more doctors aware of how serious arthritis can be. You see, at that time, a lot of medical schools didn't even have programs on arthritis. When you went through medical school, you had only 24 hours of instruction on arthritis in four years. We put a great deal of emphasis on using the dollars we raised to train rheumatologists and to educate general practitioners about the signs of arthritis."

Ms. Wyman quickly became much more than just a celebrity figurehead for the chapter -- she rolled up her sleeves and became actively involved in the day-to-day work of the chapter. But that wasn't enough -- soon she took on an even greater challenge.

During 1973 and '74, Ms. Wyman served the Arthritis Foundation on the national level as National Campaign Chairman. And she went above and beyond the call of duty in that role.

"I decided I would criss-cross the country to find out how the chapters were developing," she states. So she set out on a mission that eventually took her to almost every one of the Foundation's 72 chapters -- a monumental accomplishment.

She met with doctors treating patients in clinics, she talked with medical experts working in research laboratories and she visited children who were in the hospital because of juvenile arthritis. And she met volunteers...thousands of volunteers. "The volunteers I met were marvelous...marvelous. I can't tell you how wonderful they were," she says.

She also spoke publicly about arthritis in the cities she traveled to. She gave lectures, spoke at luncheons, and was a guest on many radio and television talk shows.

"The really marvelous thing during my travels was that at every single radio station and every single television station, there wasn't one interviewer who didn't say, 'You know, my mother (or my brother, or my sister, or my friend or me) has arthritis.' In every city, every single commentator knew someone with arthritis.

"That's really what inspired me to go on and on and on with my work. I thought, 'These are the people who have arthritis. They really want to know about it.'

"I just fell in's a love affair," she says about her work for the Foundation. "What it all boils down to, and I've said this a thousand times, is that this whole thing was built on love. That's why we've been able to make so much progress. It takes people loving people to make advances. You can't do it on a computer."

And advances have been made. The efforts Ms. Wyman and others put into professional education years ago mean that today rheumatology is a thriving medical specialty, and that the great majority of general practitioners are well-educated about arthritis.

Well-deserved recognition

For her hard work and many accomplishments as National Campaign Chairman, the Arthritis Foundation awarded Ms. Wyman the Charles B. Harding Award for Distinguished Service in 1977. That award is the highest honor the Foundation can bestow on an individual for volunteer service.

Since those hectic two years on the road, Ms. Wyman has remained active with the Southern California Chapter. In addition to appearing on that chapter's telethon for more than 20 consecutive years, she has also been instrumental in building the chapter's bequest program. Due to her efforts and those of many other volunteers, the Southern California Chapter's planned giving program is the Arthritis Foundation's most successful one in the country. Last year, that chapter received more than $2 million in gifts from people who remembered the Arthritis Foundation in their wills.

"I feel very strongly that planned giving is one of the most important ways we can insure the future of arthritis research," Ms. Wyman states firmly. "A lot of people want to donate, but can't afford a large donation right now. By remembering the Arthritis Foundation in their walls, they can keep the organization going in the future."

Three years ago, the Southern California Chapter established an award in Ms. Wyman's honor, the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award. It is the highest volunteer honor the chapter bestows, and is given annually to the person who best exemplifies the kind of long-standing dedication to the Arthritis Foundation that Ms. Wyman has given for many years.

A philosophy for giving

Ms. Wyman's philosophy of life gives some insight as to why she has put so many years into working to make life better for others. "The whole idea of being on this earth, as far as I'm concerned, is to say, 'Hey, what can I do?'"

Ms. Wyman asked what she could do, and then she did a lot. "The thing I love about working for the Arthritis Foundation is that we're giving everybody hope," she says. "And if you can help one person in this world, you've done something.

"The greatest thing the Arthritis Foundation has done, through research and education, is eliminate a tremendous amount of pain. I think the reasons volunteers get in l there and work is that nobody wants to see anybody hurting.

"I know I'm being philosophical now," she concludes. "But people must help people. If you don't reach out, you've got empty hands."

Jane Wyman is one person who can look back on a full life of reaching out and giving, and know her hands will never be empty.
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Title Annotation:interview with Jane Wyman about her association with Arthritis Foundation
Author:Witter, Dianne C.
Publication:Arthritis Today
Article Type:interview
Date:May 1, 1988
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