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Volunteer Highlight: Melissa

On a cozy street in Queens, the sun is shining through the clouds. It’s a typical day in suburban New York City, as cars pass slowly down the road and neighbors walk their dogs down tight, hilly sidewalks.

At the end of the street, at the corner of 145 Place, stands a signpost. Two city workers diligently strap a second sign to the post. The sign reads “Robert C. Lohnes Way.” A young, red-headed woman watches them, smiling. Her husband stands beside her, holding her hand.

The Robert C. Lohnes Way sign has hung at 145 Place since 2015, but it was whisked away during a volatile wind storm that hit the sleepy neighborhood last March. The sign was instilled to honor the life of Robert “Bob” Lohnes after he passed away from MDS in 2014. It is an acknowledgement, not only of Bob’s battle with cancer, but of the long and adventurous life he lived.

An unmistakably tall and spritely figure, Bob’s bright eyes shone above his signature shapely moustache. Bob’s life was one of service. He left behind a legacy few could hope to achieve. As a younger man he served in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then became a New York City Police detective. He was a fingerprint expert called upon by the FBI to support several high-profile forensic cases. He volunteered for the Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service and was a post 9/11 Rescue Recovery and Identification volunteer. For 30 years he was a Scoutmaster, affectionately called “Uncle Bob” by his Scouts. During his tenure he lead over 50 Scouts to the highest rank, known as the Eagle Scout.

It was just before a Scout trip, during a required routine physical, that he learned there was a problem with his blood count. When he returned from the trip, he underwent further tests. Finally, he learned he had Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). MDS is a blood cancer which disrupts the production of blood cells.

Doctors told Bob and his family that he would need regular blood transfusions, and that to cure the cancer he would need a bone marrow transplant. Bob, characteristically, wasn’t fazed, but his daughter, Melissa, wanted to know more. She began to research the disease, their options and organizations who supported patients in Bob’s position. It was then that she learned about The Icla da Silva Foundation. A service-oriented family, Bob and his wife Magaly, along with Melissa and her husband Mike, formed a team, “Bob’s Mustaches” at the Foundation’s annual Matchmaker 5k Run/Walk, held on Roosevelt Island in New York.

Things progressed faster than expected. Bob’s brother was tested to see if he was a bone marrow match. Like 70% of all patients who need a bone marrow transplant, he wasn’t able to find a compatible match within his family. In February 2014, he began experimental treatment, but his condition only worsened and he was soon hospitalized. The doctors told him and his family that his kidneys were failing from an infection, as his immune system weakened. Just five days after being hospitalized in March 2014, he passed away.

In the face of terrible grief, those who loved Bob wanted to create a remembrance for him. One of his Eagle Scouts, Brian Connolly, petitioned the local town council to have 145 Place co-named “Robert C. Lohnes Way.” Bob had lived on the street for nearly 50 years and raised both his children there. Brian was able to collect signatures from the required 80% of the street’s residents, and at an official naming ceremony, the honorary sign was hung for the first time.

But the street isn’t just named after Bob, it is imbued with his memory. His daughter Melissa recalls, “We would wait for him to get home every day. We would see him walking down the block and we would run down the street and jump into his arms.”

For Melissa, community service is a way to remember her father’s life and honor his passion for helping others. The Lohnes family has run in every Matchmaker 5k Run/Walk since Bob’s passing, and Melissa has consistently come in 1st place as Individual Fundraiser. Bob’s Mustaches has been the Top Fundraising Team for four years in a row.

The family hosts an annual art benefit, gathering donations from the art world and their own community. The event includes a silent auction and raffle, as well as games and door prizes. Some years they host a bar event with a local establishment that donates half the proceeds from the night to the Matchmaker 5k team.

This year, in recognition of their outstanding volunteer activities (for The Icla da Silva Foundation and many other community service works alike), The Disney Company honored Melissa, Mike, and Magaly with the VoluntEAR of the Year award.

For Melissa, no award can compete with the knowledge that her father’s memory continues to bring health and happiness to others. The Robert C. Lohnes Way sign at the end of 145 Place is a symbol of their dedication to his legacy. The sign is also a symbol of the love they shared, and the many sunny afternoons Melissa spent, eager to jump into her father’s waiting arms.

Even though they are born and bred New Yorkers, please join us and the Lohnes family on September 24th in the beautiful city of Boston for the Matchmaker 5k to support patients in need of a life-saving transplant. Register Now:

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