McHENRY – Riverwood Elementary School third-grader Emily Mack wasn’t nervous at all about cutting off her thick ponytail and then shaving her head.
She’d been pushing her parents to let her participate in the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation community shave in McHenry for more than a year, something she wanted to do in honor of her aunt, Linda Lonigro of Crystal Lake, who died this past August after fighting breast cancer for seven years.
Emily finally got them to say yes just days before the shave.
“She was very adamant that she wanted to do it,” said her mother, Michele Mack. “She didn’t care how much money she raised. She didn’t care if she raised any. She just wanted to be a part of it.”
And standing in the milling crowds that filled the gym at McHenry West High School, Emily still was adamant that it was worth it.
Hundreds of people across McHenry County have shaved – or are set to shave – their heads in a smattering of events for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Some participants, including Emily, also donate their hair to organizations like Locks of Love and Pantene Pro-V’s Beautiful Lengths, which provides wigs for children dealing with hair loss caused by cancer treatments.
Nearly 700 people signed up to participate in the McHenry community event, which has set the world record in the past for the largest number of people getting their heads shaved at a single location. The donations were tallied at $139,597 as of Thursday evening.
The Crystal Lake Kiwanis Club and its affiliated key club at Crystal Lake South High School also hosted a shave Thursday evening, raising $14,774 with over 50 shaves and a record number of girls participating, according the event’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation page and Aimee Harris, the key club’s facilitator.
“No turning back now,” George Koll told Crystal Lake South freshman Alec Strickland as Koll drew the razor across the top of his head.
While this was Strickland’s first time participating in a St. Baldrick’s event, Koll is an old hand. He has volunteered at one to three events each year for the past 11 years, although he doesn’t quite remember how it all got started.
“I was a barber, and it seemed like it was an easy match,” he said. “I think it’s important for everyone to do something, and this was something I could do.”
Koll has seen every reaction: “Some people are really, really, really excited about it, and they’re like, ‘Give me a Mohawk first!’ or ‘Shave one half of my head first!’ They’ve got cheering sections and everything. Other people – I had one kid a couple of years ago who had straight blonde hair to his shoulders. ... I shaved it off and I showed it to him. His face just went white.”
Ten-year-old Matthew Sikora of McHenry was turning into a bit of a pro himself, getting his head shaved Thursday evening for the third time along with his brother, Charlie, 6, and a neighbor, Gavon Schutze, 9.
Each time still feels different, he said.