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FGCU President Merwin Recalls Polio Memories, Prompts Him to Volunteer as March of Dimes WalkAmerica Honorary Chair
4/19/2001

FORT MYERS, FL - The impression of childhood memories having seen friends crippled by Polio motivated Florida Gulf Coast University President William C. Merwin, to choose to serve as Honorary Chair of the Lee County WalkAmerica event for the Southwest Coast Chapter of the March of Dimes on Saturday, April 28. It is Dr. Merwin's wish that young women can learn from his story how important it is to be pro-active, caring for themselves to bear healthy children.

These memories remain clear in his mind. "As a young boy I accompanied my mother who was our neighborhood fundraiser for the March of Dimes," Dr. Merwin related. "We went door to door and neighbors gave us most of their dimes which we mounted on cards depicting children in iron lungs or on crutches. At that time, just after WWII, the March of Dimes was determined to wipe out the dread disease of Polio. Polio was the summer scourge as it took a number of my classmates and neighbors lives. Highly contagious Polio limited my summer activities like swimming and going to movies and we were forbidden to go places where there were large crowds of people in confined spaces.

Dr. Jonas Salk and his vaccine all but eliminated the disease in the 1960s largely through the financial help afforded by the March of Dimes."

Today the March of Dimes provides funding for research and community education to eradicate birth defects. Dr. Merwin stated "I have seen first hand the problems for families with children so afflicted. Simply educating our young women students to take folic acid prior to pregnancy would wipe out birth defects. This is the major reason that I have tried to rally our students to participate in the WalkAmerica events. It will make all of us more cognizant of a preventable tragedy."

FGCU students, faculty and staff will join President Merwin at 8 a.m., April 28, at Centennial Park to make this fund raising event a success. A contest among the student residences is in full swing to find the most walkers. A beach party is the prize for the building that raises the most money and the building that has most representation at the actual walk. Faculty, staff and students will receive FGCU/MOD T-shirts by getting a minimum of $25 in donations ($10 for students). Other fundraisers on campus include sale of MOD chocolate bars at displays across campus and Hero Stars available at the bookstore and Eagle Cafeteria.

President Merwin, in an advisory to FGCU faculty, staff and students, said that last year more than $5,000 was raised by FGCU walkers, with 200 walking. He asks that the University again support the March of Dimes and its pioneering efforts to give babies born prematurely or with birth defects a fighting chance to live. This year FGCU's goal is to have over 200 walkers and raise $6,000 for March of Dimes.

The annual March of Dimes WalkAmerica program has become known across the country as the walk that saves babies. "It is my desire that we at FGCU demonstrate our community involvement. Take two hours of your day to 'be a hero for babies,' and have some fun together with your FGCU colleagues," stated Dr. Merwin. A FGCU group picture will be taken before the walk at Centennial Park.

Dave Osterholt, 590-1007, in the President's office is spearheading the University drive. Tracy Shonak, 590-1703, in Student Housing, is organizing the student effort. They can be contacted for further information.

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