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Party idea turns into Walla-Pa-Looza to help those with cancer

In an attempt to keep fundraising money for cancer, Craig Wallace founded Walla-Pa-Looza, a nonprofit that raises money for people and families affected by cancer.
In an attempt to keep fundraising money for cancer, Craig Wallace founded Walla-Pa-Looza, a nonprofit that raises money for people and families affected by cancer.

Craig Wallace wanted to throw a party in his backyard.

But when his wife, Joanne, nixed that idea, Wallace ran into some inspiration while watching "60 Minutes" on TV that night.

It was 2009, and charities were struggling to bring in donations.

What if he threw a party to raise money for charity?

His wife agreed – but he still couldn't hold it in the backyard.

"Our thought was, ‘We’ll have these bands and pizza and beer. We’ll raise money, and we’ll give a big check to the American Cancer Society. We’ve done our job and patted ourselves on the back,’" Wallace said.

It didn't end there though.

Wallace's party grew into the nonprofit Walla-Pa-Looza, which raises money to help area families affected by cancer.

"From the get-go, he likes live music and parties and gatherings and stuff," said Justin Griletz, a Walla-Pa-Looza volunteer who nominated Wallace for Everyday Heroes. "It’s grown to what it is today because his character."

Walla-Pa-Looza holds two main events a year – Walla-Pa-Looza on the last Saturday in July and Jolly-Pa-Looza in the winter, which this year raised over $100,000.

The nonprofit also hosts fundraisers for particular families, and this year is adding scholarship named for John Smidl, a Johnsburg Lions Club member who died of cancer in June. The scholarship is for high school students who had or have cancer.

"These are people in our community," said Wallace, a Johnsburg resident. "It’s your neighbors. It’s my neighbors. It’s grandmas, grandpas. There’s no age limit. We did an event for a girl in McHenry. Her name is Maya Keesey. We raised $18,000 for her in one night."

The pervasiveness of cancer was the reason Wallace picked it as the focus of his fundraising efforts.

It seemed like everyone Craig Wallace knew had been affected by cancer. He couldn't go into a restaurant without seeing a sign for a benefit.

His grandmother and mother-in-law died from cancer, and his youngest son, Andrew, had precancerous moles when he was born. He had surgery when he was barely a year old.

"The funny thing is we’re not curing cancer," Wallace said. "We’re not paying for research. We’re helping these folks get through cancer. Do I sit here thinking, ‘Wow, we’re the greatest organization in the world, we’re curing cancer’? No, we’re helping someone get to their treatment because they don’t have any gas money or their electric is going to get shut off because they can’t work."

The number of applications Walla-Pa-Looza receives has grown, and Wallace and his board of directors reviews each of them, deciding how much each applicant receives based on need and diagnosis.

Wallace would like to see Walla-Pa-Looza continue to grow, perhaps booking a national act in the next year or so.

The event already has grown to include a petting zoo, a silent auction, a battle of the bands and a lineup of musical acts. Wallace no longer has to fund it using his credit card, either.

Wallace also belongs to the Johnsburg Lions Club and the Johnsburg Community Men's Club, is the league coordinator and a coach for the Johnsburg Boys Baseball League, and announces for the Johnsburg Junior Skyhawks.

"Craig is somebody who puts himself before others, starting Walla-Pa-Looza, giving back to the community for cancer patients, being an outstanding member in the Lions Club as well as the community club, [and] all his volunteer work that he does," Griletz said.

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