Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been the backbone of the family of Sadie Briggs ’20 for four generations.

By Sadie Briggs ’20

Editor’s note: Long-time Fenwick Speech Teacher Andy Arellano reports that Sadie Briggs presented this past summer to the St. Jude Leadership Society in Memphis, TN. “She began crafting her speech last April,” Mr. Arellano says proudly of his protégé. Sadie made the trip from River Forest with her grandfather and her mother, who knew nothing of about her presentation and really didn’t want to “waste the weekend.” During the speech, her surprised mom “broke down and cried,” Arellano says.

Today, I would like to thank everyone who has made this experience possible. This is my second time being able to come to this event, and even though I am up here again, this experience truly leaves me speechless.  

Sadie’s great-grandpa, Joe Shaker, Sr., in 1951.

Many people ask me why St. Jude means so much to me and, honestly, when I was little, I felt that my amazement was obvious. Everywhere I went, from my grandparent’s homes, to dinners, events, and more, St. Jude was always present. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet my great grandfather, Joseph Shaker, who explained the importance of this great hospital. My great grandpa was one of the co-founders of the hospital along with Danny Thomas. Being first generation Lebanese, with five children and a wife to support, my great grandfather decided to join Danny’s dream. Today, I am the oldest of 20 of Joseph Shaker’s great-grandchildren. Only my brother and I ever got the chance to meet my great grandfather, but trust me, all of the little ones hear enough about him to make them feel as if they had met him too. They also know that they have the duty to carry on his St. Jude legacy. 

“Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.”

– Danny Thomas’ prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus
Alumnus Joseph G. Shaker ’68 (now retired) was President/CEO of Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

My great grandfather’s son, Joseph [Fenwick Class of 1968], my grandfather, has also played a major role in my love for this hospital and the St. Jude mission. He still actively participates on the St. Jude/ALSAC board. My grandfather is a person who is often described as one of a kind. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him, and there is nothing that makes him happier than helping St. Jude and teaching his five grandchildren about this hospital. Because of him, we all keep St. Jude so very close to our hearts. 

St. Jude’s Mission Statement

The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

I first participated in the St. Jude Leadership Society when I was a freshman in high school. I was one of the youngest students present, and visiting the hospital for that first time changed everything for me. I became more grateful for all of the work that my family has done to support this wonderful facility. At that time, I also learned that everyone can play a role in helping St. Jude, no matter one’s occupation or college major. Even though I have no clue as to what I want to do when I am older, I do know that with God’s help I will always stay involved with the St. Jude mission. 

“Coach” Briggs

This year, I have now come back to St. Jude as a coach. I oversaw a group of three students and helped them through the fundraising process. If the group had any questions, they knew that they could call upon me for guidance. Two of the young women and myself put on a bowling event that raised $4,000. Through the undertaking, I learned how to plan an event. I also had a chance to teach the young women leadership qualities that I had previously learned from my grandfather. In a little more than a year from now, I will be heading off to college. While in college, I still plan to be part of St. Jude. I will always carry the mission of St. Jude close to my heart, and I will spread information about the St. Jude mission wherever I go. 

Seventeen-year-old Ms. Briggs was followed at the podium by “That Girl” Marlo Thomas, the former TV actress, Danny Thomas’ eldest child and St. Jude’s National Outreach Director.

That first time that I visited the hospital, I was with my mom. I still vividly remember walking through the doors and going down the hallways while telling my mom how incredible St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital truly is. My eyes filled up with tears as I continued my journey through the hospital. The patients and families that we met did not come off as scared or sad, rather they seemed to be optimistic and safe because of the efforts of St. Jude. Patients and families had a look of hope in their eyes that everything was going to be okay. 

Yes, St. Jude is a beacon of hope and love for families that are facing the darkest times in their lives. No matter how old anyone is, there is always a way to support  that hope and love by helping and contributing to through St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

So I invite you to join me in continuing to be a part of our St. Jude family.  I’m honored to have shared in this experience with you and am excited to see how we can continue to work together to support this wonderful organization.


Also read: Helen Shaker’s obituary from 2015.

About the Author

Sadie Briggs, Fenwick Class of 2020

“I was part of the pilot program of the St. Jude Leadership Society during my freshman year,” explains Sadie Briggs, now a senior Friar. “I really enjoyed it and decided to reach out and see if I could help with the third year of it. I spent the whole summer of my junior year forming a coaching program for the alumni. A ‘coach’ would be someone that the students could look to as a guide … someone their age. There were six coaches elected, and I was given a group of three girls from Fenwick. The program ends with a trip to Memphis to visit the hospital and get a look into what all the fundraising we did went towards. I was asked to speak at the event during the closing remarks.”

5 Replies to “Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer”

  1. Working on the annual Chicagoland fashion show for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with both of Sadie’s grandmothers, I recall toddler Sadie present during raffle preparation! She has blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and her passion for St. Jude is so admirable. The hospital is lucky to have Sadie continuing her great-grandfather’s support of Danny’s dream!

  2. So proud of you, Sadie. You carry on a most important and worthy cause for your lifetime. You set a wonderful example for your peers and family. God has blessed us abundantly. Now we must pay it forward.

  3. I couldn’t be prouder of my granddaughter..besides Sadie’s untiring commitment to St Jude she is mentoring all our family’s great grandchildren and her friends to this sacred cause.
    St Jude will be in great hands with such loving and caring young adults of her generation..
    Joe g shaker

    1. I have always been in awe of the Shakers love and dedication to St. Jude. It is no surprise that Sadie is so deeply immersed in this mission. Such wonderful role models. As the eldest of her generation she is carrying out the dreams of Danny Thomas. God Bless you all.

    2. So grateful for your family’s devotion to this worthy cause. It’s encouraging to see Sadie’s generation carrying on this tradition of giving. ….the Donakers

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