HAMMOND | They weren't just cheering for the Bears on Sunday at the Joe Betustak Jr. Foundation chili cook-off fundraiser.
They were cheering for one another.
Patrick O'Hara was happy to join about 125 other people who want to support local families with loved ones facing serious illnesses.
The chili cook-off fundraiser was held Sunday in memory of a Hammond police officer who died in 2006 after fighting bone cancer.
O'Hara was amazed by the response at the event, held at the Hammond FOP Lodge 51 at 7527 Kennedy Ave.
“With Joe's family, instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for themselves, they've done all this to carry on Joe Jr.'s legacy,” he said.
The Joe Betustak Jr. Foundation was formed after Joe Betustak Jr. died in 2006 battling osteosarcoma. The organization was created in his memory and is dedicated to helping families of children with serious illnesses.
Guests at the chili cook-off donated more than $1,200 to the organization to distribute for the holidays.
The event was a success and is expected to become an annual event in addition to the spring Joe B. Memorial Benefit, Joe Betustak said.
“His biggest fear about dying was that people would forget him,” Betustak said of his son. “After he passed away, we kept doing what he would have wanted and helped other families.”
The foundation has held seven fundraisers since the police officer's death and has donated about $100,000 to local families struggling with serious illnesses.
The group is still gaining steam and has outgrown its original venue.
The first six annual events were at the Cavalier Inn in Hammond. As the group helps more families, the bigger it becomes.
Earlier this year the annual spring event moved to Wolf Lake Memorial Park and was able to accommodate the growing number of people willing to help.
Katie Crandol was one beneficiaries of the party at the lake earlier this year.
Crandol, 17, of Hammond, had brain surgery to remove a tumor in April 2011.
She and her mother, Lisa Crandol, were happy to sit and chat with members of the group Sunday during the Bears game.
The best part of being part of the group is the warmth and support your family receives from all the other people involved, Lisa Crandol said.
“The first time we met them, they acted like we were family,” she said. “And now we are. We all are. The support is just amazing.”
Crandol said she is looking forward to helping with the upcoming spring fundraiser so she can help another family in need.
Susan Golub said she won't ever forget the kindness the group has shown her family as they coped with her son's fight with osteosarcoma.
J.J. Golub died in October 2009, more than a year after he was honored at one of the Joe B. benefits. He was 17.
Susan Golub, of Highland, said her son loved to play guitar and played the national anthem a year after his fundraiser for the next family's benefit.
“That was the last time J.J. played guitar,” she said. “I'm grateful to have that picture and the video from it.”
The group continues to play the video of the 2009 performance at each spring benefit. The Golub family, including two of J.J. Golub's siblings, showed their support at the chili cook-off Sunday.
“We always will (come to the Joe B. events) because you always give back and keep the circle going,” Susan Golub said.
Her husband, Jim Golub, said he was thankful the foundation chose to reach out to his family.
“It's families helping families,” he said. “And we're here for this family, they're part of us.”