December 8, 2011
While Ronni Handelman earned her master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis in 1980, her passion to make real, lasting change for communities in need was ignited. For the next 30 years, Ronni volunteered her time to realize this change.
“Ronni did a little here and a little there so the world would be a little bit better,” Ronni’s husband, Gary, says.
Ronni co-founded Cultural Leadership, a program that supports St. Louis high school students in becoming leaders and community organizers. She also started the Bosnian Relief Project-St. Louis, which resulted in the collection and distribution of more than $500,000 worth of goods to Sarajevan women during the BosnianWar.
These are just two examples of the many causes, both local and international, that Ronni supported. She often held leadership positions and won many awards for her work. When she accepted the 2009 Brotherhood/Sisterhood Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis, she said, “None of us know how much time we have here on this earth. We can use our time to make a difference.”
Ronni made a difference in the lives of many from these large-scale efforts and also through small, everyday things she did for her friends and family.
“Ronni had many friends. To commemorate their birthdays, special events or passing of a loved one, she would send a tribute gift,” Gary says.
Ronni made time for everyone, including her three children, five grandchildren and herself, leading an active, healthy lifestyle, which made her diagnosis of stage III lung cancer in 2006 completely unexpected. Ronni chose to receive her care from Ramaswamy Govindan, MD, at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
“Ronni had extraordinarily good care from Dr. Govindan. He is brilliant, so caring and compassionate,” Gary says. “And Ronni believed in him and his research.”
Although there is no cure for her cancer, Dr. Govindan assured Ronni that she would be able to maintain a high quality of life.
“Ronni maintained a 95 percent quality of life with us for five years after her diagnosis,” Gary says.
Their daughter Amy continues, “Mom never forgot about the cancer, but she had an amazing attitude. When she was diagnosed, she decided she wanted to create lasting memories with her grandkids and my dad. And that’s what she did.”
Ronni traveled with Gary to Europe and Alaska. In the summers, she rented a house for her three children and their families to spend time together.
“Our kids have memories of all of us coming from New York, Phoenix and St. Louis to be together in one house. Cooking together. Spending time together. And those are memories they’ll have forever,” Amy says.
Because she believed in Dr. Govindan’s research and appreciated his compassionate care, Ronni wanted to establish a fund to support him. When she passed away earlier this year, Gary established the Ronni Handelman Lung Cancer Research Fund in her memory to support Dr. Govindan’s lung cancer research.
“Setting up the fund helped me considerably in my grieving process,” Gary says. “To get involved with something that Ronni was passionate about and had wanted to do really meant a lot to me. And now her spirit continues to live on and touch people through her fund.”
Amy adds, “I feel lucky to have had Mom for 40 years and, it’s wonderful to see so many of her family and friends supporting the fund in her memory. It’s a reflection of just how many people she touched; and it’s nice to know that because she helped them, Dr. Govindan will be able to keep improving lung cancer treatment for his patients.”
To give to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Ronni Handelman Lung Cancer Research Fund (#7446), please use visit our online giving form