Entering Kim and Scott Ireland’s home is like walking into a museum. Covering both sides of the entryway and filling glass cases running down the center of the hall is baseball paraphernalia of every imaginable sort. Signed balls. Photos. Hundreds of vintage baseball cards. Scott loves baseball. He collects cards. He owns season tickets for the Red Sox games. But even knowing this, and even after passing through the shrine in the front hallway, it is still surprising to sit down at the kitchen counter and get a full view of the regulation sized Little League field – complete with dugouts – in the back yard.
Photo: Margaret Michniewicz
Keeping it local: today, Scott Ireland (left) is cancer-free, but with his wife Kim (right)
are as committed as ever to funding Dr. Krag's research. "The more money you raise locally,
the more federal grant money you are eligible to receive," says Kim.
This is not simply baselines mowed into someone’s back field where kids can toss the ball around. Last summer this field hosted a number of games for teams made up of kids who wanted to continue playing after the regular Little League season was done. And one of the first thing players from both teams did when they showed up for a game was to put on the sunscreen that can always be found in each of the dugouts. Sixteen years ago, Scott was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer caused by overexposure to the sun. Sunscreen at the Ireland house is mandatory.
When Scott was first diagnosed in 1990, he and Kim had been dating for a year. The ensuing five months was a maddening wait for referrals from primary care physicians to specialists who gave referrals to other specialists. This waiting game ended in Dr. David Krag’s surgical oncology office at the University of Vermont (UVM). In Scott’s first treatment, the melanoma was cut away and a skin graft was performed, removing skin from Scott’s left thigh and grafting it on to his left arm. Then, in 1992 a suspicious lymph node popped up. Although conventional treatment called for the removal of a large number of lymph nodes (axillary node dissection), Krag opted for an experimental procedure known as a sentinel node biopsy, leaving the majority of Scott’s lymph nodes in place. (See preceding page for more about Dr. Krag’s groundbreaking research.)
In 1995, Scott had a recurrence of cancer, the same year Kim gave birth to their first child, Dylan. “I know I don’t remember all the baby milestones with Dylan because I was so busy taking care of Scott,” Kim recalls. “He needed a lot of care at home that wasn’t covered by our HMO.” The Visiting Nurse Association came twice a day and taught Kim how to change Scott’s wet dressing and check his intravenous drip. Kim gave him shots three times a week for a year. “It was awful. Scott felt like he had the flu every day for a year. There was so much to do that I didn’t know anything about at all. And there was a lot of fear.”
Krag walked compassionately through all this with them, Kim says. “With Dr. Krag you never feel like just another case. He never forgets that you’re a person.” Scott and Kim were grateful for his care, and impressed with his desire to find the most effective treatment. “He’s one of those people that you just know is going to find something. His approach is innovative and he’s so passionate about what he does.”
The Irelands themselves believed this so passionately that in 1999, the S.D. Ireland Construction Corporation of Burlington set up the S.D. Ireland Cancer Research Fund for the purpose of sustaining Krag’s work as a cancer researcher. “Dr. Krag has to spend far too much time applying for grants to pay for the research. And the way funding for things like this works is: the more money you raise locally, the more federal grant money you are eligible to receive,” Kim explains.
To date, money for the cancer research fund has come almost exclusively from the S.D. Ireland Construction Company. But new ideas for revenue are evolving. Beginning in March of 2006, the proceeds from the Irelands’ Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, with the help of sponsors, went to benefit the fund. This year $75,000 in corporate donations was raised. Last October an event called “Walk for Life” supported the fund, and this year the Lake Monsters held a “Pretty in Pink” night to promote breast cancer awareness. One hundred percent of the profits from t-shirt sales on the Web site sdirelandcancerresearch.org goes to the fund. And, not surprisingly, the Irelands are thinking of doing their own baseball-themed fundraiser.
Kim is animated talking about these ideas, and does much of the work, including sales and marketing, herself. “How often do you get to be part of something where all the money you give goes to something that is both cutting-edge technology and local?” she points out.
As both a family and a corporation, the Irelands are presented with many opportunities for giving. In considering each project, says Kim, they are committed to choosing initiatives that have the most potential to provide local benefit and long-term impact, as well as ones that are important to them as a family. Last year the corporation donated an undisclosed amount of money to help fund the newest academic building at Champlain College, Kim’s alma mater, which was named for the S.D. Ireland family. In 1999, they gave $2 million to create an endowed Professorship in Surgical Oncology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Scot and Kim also give to many causes no less important but much smaller in scope—things like local school projects, the hockey scoreboard at UVM, Little League – and, of course, the post-Little League playing field at their home base.
Life at the Ireland house these days has returned to normalcy. Scott is cancer free. The three children – Dylan, 11, Shea, 9, and Sophie, 6 – ride their bikes in the driveway and take breaks only to venture into the kitchen for snacks or drinks. Kim, a Williston native with family close by, complains of the mess in their rooms – one of the projects she wants to get to while the kids are in school. But in addition to baseball and bike riding and chores like cleaning their rooms, Scott and Kim are hoping to teach their kids about something that will have an impact far beyond life in their home.
“What I hope my kids will learn is how much good can come about from being involved in this kind of philanthropy. It’s important to us that they understand about being part of something bigger,” Kim says.
The younger Irelands are getting firsthand experience as budding philanthropists. Each year the Shelburne Community School, which Dylan, Shea, and Sophie attend, has a craft fair. The Ireland children are excited about selling the fund’s t-shirts again this year at the fair. Dylan’s family reports that he likes handling the money. Among the Ireland family, “handling money” means, at least in part, doing everything they can to help find a rapid and effective treatment for cancer. Not a bad thing for an eleven-year-old to learn.
Lyn Taylor Hale lives in Burlington. She is a freelance writer and also employed as a community support worker for Howard Center for Human Services.