She Takes Old Memories And Helps To Fulfill Last Wishes Churchville's Kathleen Reick Collects Donated Wedding Gowns To Raise Money For Breast Cancer Patients. She Saw The Idea On "Oprah."

Posted: November 12, 2000

This is what comes of watching Oprah: Kathleen Reick's living room now holds a rack of used wedding gowns.

Yes, the connection was just about that simple. One afternoon in May when the kids were getting to her, she switched on the TV and was struck by the story of a West Coast woman who had started an organization granting last wishes for breast-cancer patients.

The group, Making Memories, collects donated wedding gowns, resells them, and puts the profits into a dream-fulfillment fund for people with metastatic breast cancer.

Reick, 40, who lives in Churchville, Bucks County, thought about it overnight before talking to her husband, Bill. Both are retired Philadelphia police officers (she, on disability), and Kathleen in particular seems unable to avoid being nice. Bill's support aids and abets.

Earlier this year, the Reicks took in an aging 175-pound Neapolitan bull mastiff whose feet had been deformed from years of confinement in a mesh cage. The dog, named Capone, dominates the other half of the living room.

Kathleen Reick, busy raising two school-age boys, doesn't usually get a chance to watch Oprah, so the fact that she caught this particular program seemed like fate to her. She was touched by the idea of turning the happiness of one woman's wedding day into the chance for happiness for another woman.

After ensuring that the West Coast group was legitimate, Reick signed on to start a local chapter.

She began June 5 and already has nearly 700 gowns. She's hoping for 1,000 before the group's first sale in the spring. She's also hoping that someone will donate a 6,500-square-foot space for the two-day event.

Largely through word of mouth, Reick found 26 other volunteers, and the local chapter now has 34 drop-off sites in the region where women can take their gowns - everywhere from Allentown to Tuckerton.

"Strangers call," Reick said, "and in addition to donating their gowns, they want to know what else they can do."

Among her volunteers are three professional bridal consultants who will help price the gowns for resale. Reick wants to keep the prices low.

And she has made connections with local hospitals that can help identify cancer patients with a need.

Reick herself has no personal connection to breast cancer. She is hoping her involvement will be an example for her children.

"I try to teach my children to give and not just take," Reick said. "I'm trying to raise them with morals."

And she was simply touched by the example of Fran Hansen, who started Making Memories in Portland, Ore.

Hansen was 48 when she had two consecutive mammograms that indicated possible problems. Later testing showed she was cancer-free.

The experience led her to an Internet list server where she met women coping with the last stages of the disease and struggling to make their final months with their families meaningful.

That was December 1997.

"I woke up one morning knowing how to help," Hansen said. For 27 years she had run International World of Weddings, a chain of bridal shops and catering services. She had given up the business entirely just six months before.

"I knew women around the country would be willing to give away their most treasured possession to help someone else," she said.

Making Memories' first dream fulfillment was for 54-year-old Nancy Kelly of Oak Harbor, Wash.

Kelly was in hospice care - a program that generally takes only patients who are in the final six months of their lives. She very much wanted a family reunion, but hesitated to accept the Making Memories gift because it was intended as a last wish.

"She was certain she was not going to die of breast cancer," Hansen said. "She even asked if she had to pay me back if she didn't die."

The reunion brought 31 relatives together in Young Harris, Ga., on July 10, 1999. Shortly after that, Kelly started on a new series of medications and regained her strength. She is still very much alive.

The next two dream fulfillments for the group were trips to Disney World. Mel Caron went in August 1999 with her husband and three young boys. And in September 1999, Yvonne Mack went with her husband and twin sons.

A year later, Mack died. She was 40.

Caron died just last month at the age of 38.

Dianna Marder's e-mail address is dmarder@phillynews.com

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