Time moves on and wounds slowly heal when tragedy is turned into positivity. While nothing can replace the loss of a loved one, or fill the void once filled by a child and a sibling now gone, the Betustak family of Hammond has takeN great solace in knowing through the pain of death they have been empowered to give life, give hope and give support to others in need.
They do this by keeping the memory of Detective Sgt. Joe Betustak Jr. in the public consciousness and through the tax exempt 501(c) (3) charity named in honor of the Hammond native and graduate of St. Casimir (1984), Bishop Noll (1988) and St. Joseph's College (1992), who served his city of Hammond in law enforcement for 13 years as a motorcycle officer, a member of the SWAT team, and with the narcotics unit.
Joe Betustak was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2005 and died just a year later. During the months of battling his illness, Betustak expressed to family members that his biggest fear was not facing death, but of being forgotten once he was gone. He just wanted to be remembered and to know his life had mattered.
"Joe always wanted to be a police officer and wanted to make a difference," recalled younger brother, Scott Betustak. "He wanted to make streets safe for children, like they were when he was a kid. Even though he was gone, we wanted Joe to be able to continue making a difference. Doing this enables him to do that, to make a difference in the lives of families who are right here and who are in need.”
The first benefit had been quickly assembled and staged at Hammond’s Cavalier Inn in the midst of Joe’s costly battle with cancer to help offset medical costs facing his wife Tracy and two children Ana and AJ. “After Joe was gone, we decided as a family unit, to continue doing this as an annual event to keep Joe's memory alive and to help families in his name who were going through what we had been through.”
Every May since 2005, the “Joe B. Memorial Benefit” had taken place at the Cavalier Inn, until last year when due to the steady growth of the event and increased turnout of people, it moved to Hammond’s beautiful Wolf Lake Memorial Park. The event always includes a motorcycle run assisted by The American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association (AVMRA) and a multi-band concert. All money raised goes to help a specific local young region resident currently battling cancer.
Children from Valparaiso, Griffith, Hammond and other local communities have been helped through this event in the past. This year’s proceeds will benefit Bobby Dempsey, the 16-year-old son of Riverdale police officer Dan Dempsey and his wife Karen. A freshman at Highland High School, in March of 2012 Bobby was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Whereas Bobby used to spend a lot of time on the baseball diamond dreaming of playing ball for the Highland Trojans, he now spends that time at Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn getting his chemotherapy treatments, along with spinal taps, bone marrow tests and blood transfusions.
"The Joe Betustak Memorial Foundation has grown from a local one-off concert eight years ago. Becoming a 501(c) (3) keeps more money in the fund and enables us to help more people," noted Scott, who credits the growth of the charity to the many people who have joined in the family's efforts over the years.
“This started out with just our family putting it together that first year, but it’s grown way beyond that over the years,” said Scott. “It not just our family, it’s also the hard working members of the board, the people on the committees whose efforts make this event a success year after year," stressed Scott. "The benefit would not have grown as it has without their dedication and their love of helping someone in need. It is truly an honor to be involved with such an outstanding group of people."
This year's family friendly event kicks off with a morning motorcycle run (sign ups at 9 a.m., first bike out at 11 a.m., last bike in at 4 p.m. — $15 single rider, $25 double rider). It continues with a full day of music (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) featuring six area bands – Jack Adams & Boys Are Mean, The Bed Bugs, Just 4 That, Ramona Servin, and TNT Acoustic Jams – donating their time and talent, plus assorted raffles throughout the day for sports tickets, autographed sports memorabilia, restaurant gift cards, and other donated items, and a 50/50 drawing. Food, beer, water, and soft drinks are available for purchase on site.
“We’ve also added a car show this year, which is something new. Everything is right there on Facebook,” said Scott. “I encourage people to visit our Facebook group: Joe Betustak Jr. Memorial Foundation, Inc.”
There is no charge to attend the all-ages concert, but a free will donation of any amount to help this year’s recipient Bobby Dempsey will be appreciated. Donations can also be sent to: Joe Betustak, Jr. Memorial Fund, Inc. c/o American Savings & Loan, 4521 Holman Avenue, Hammond, IN 46327.