In the Spotlight

Jerry and Marie Arenas

You can’t miss the Arenas family’s commitment to the CF cause. Walk into their Palmer’s Steakhouse restaurant in Hartland, Wis., and you come face-to-face with a wall-size banner displaying the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation logo.

The restaurant is a staple in the community, and their longtime customers are friends who turn out at every opportunity to support Jerry and Marie’s son Tony, who has CF, and the cause they spearhead. 

Decades of Dedication to the CF Cause 

Marie and Jerry Arenas, pictured here with son Tony and daughter Lisa on her wedding day, have been passionate and dedicated CF Foundation volunteers since their son’s CF diagnosis nearly 30 years ago.
Marie and Jerry Arenas, pictured here with son Tony and daughter Lisa on her wedding day, have been passionate and dedicated CF Foundation volunteers since their son’s CF diagnosis nearly 30 years ago.
Over the years, strong faith, a strong family, and a strong bond to their community all combined to help Jerry and Marie not only care for their son and watch him grow and thrive, but also to give back in unstinting and generous ways to the CF Foundation to help ease the way for others.

The family’s volunteer work has included their attendance at every Wisconsin Chapter event in their area, Jerry’s more than 16-year stint as chapter president, his co-chairing of the Milwaukee Bucks Golf Tournament this past fall, and raising over $1.4 million dollars toward the fight against CF over nearly three decades.

For more than 20 years, the Arenas have sponsored a Tent Event at their Porterhouse Restaurant to support the Foundation. The 2011 event broke its fundraising record, bringing in $96,000 — a long way from the first $1,500 they raised after Tony was diagnosed nearly 30 years ago.

At the Wisconsin Chapter’s Breath of Life Gala this past fall, Jerry and Marie were honored for their longstanding dedication to the Foundation mission. At the gala, Tony, now 27, spoke about his experiences living with CF and finding comfort and strength working with his family, friends and many others to support the search for a cure.

“We’ve met so many wonderful people who have come into Tony’s life,” said Marie in a recent interview for a local paper, as she spoke about the family’s experience giving back to the CF community. “That’s part of the good that comes with the bad.”

Finding Peace in Helping Others

Sitting with his own father in the hospital cafeteria minutes after his infant son had been diagnosed with CF, Jerry remembers turning to his dad and asking, “Why is this happening to us?”

“My father and I were both in tears,” he recalls. “He always had the answers — but this time, he didn’t.” 

Months later, after friends and family helped them far exceed the goal of their first fundraiser for CF, Jerry’s dad turned to him and said: “This is why it happened to you — you are going to be able to make a difference.”

As Tony got older and joined his families’ efforts on behalf of the Foundation, he too has touched many people’s lives. Today he is a smiling, confident young man who has achieved in both academics and athletics. Graduating magna cum laude from Marquette University, he works at the family restaurant and currently serves as a volunteer basketball coach at his local parish’s high school, leading his team to the championship this past March.

Tony’s CF treatment regimen — four hours a day wearing a vest that shakes loose the mucus in his lungs — is something he rarely talks about. Nor the 14,000 pills he swallows over the course of a year, the hospitalizations, and the doctor’s visits that have been a regular part of his life, for all his life.

Jerry, Marie and Tony’s sister Lisa have been there for every bit of it. The family portrait of four glowing people says it all: Faith and dedication to a cause can bring people together, and life’s difficulties can lead to unexpected blessings.

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Posted 2/17/2012