A Proud Heritage – Ellie Noury Wagenti
Ellie Noury Wagenti has been supporting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital from the time it was only a dream in the mind and heart of Danny Thomas.
Ellie was in her early twenties in the 1950s when she saw an article in her local Teaneck, N.J. newspaper about Danny, who was issuing a plea to fellow Arab-Americans to help him raise money to build a shrine to St. Jude Thaddeus. "At that time, there was no talk of a hospital," Ellie says. "We were told that he wanted to build a shrine, which is what he had promised when he prayed to St. Jude."
Ellie, along with her parents and other Arab-Americans, was very eager to help. "He was the first Arabic person in the United States that became famous in the entertainment industry," Ellie remembers. "We were so very proud of him, that he was Arabic and Catholic. There weren't a lot of us, but we banded together to do this for him."
Ellie and her parents became involved with fundraising for Danny, and Ellie was named the fundraising director for the city of Teaneck. She went door-to-door using a coffee can to collect nickels, dimes, and quarters for Danny's dream. "We were not organized at that time," says Ellie. "We had no fliers or materials. We really had nothing." But Ellie would not be deterred from her goal. Guided by her love for Danny and a determination to help him realize his dream, she persisted in her efforts and raised more than $2,000 which helped Danny to open the hospital in 1962.
Now age 76, Ellie resides in Lodi, N.J. where she continues to be a dedicated supporter of the hospital's mission by being a Partner In Hope and participating in local St. Jude events. Her daughter Jackie, also a Partner In Hope, continues the family's tradition of supporting St. Jude.
In 2003, Ellie became a member of the Danny Thomas – St. Jude Society when she gave the ultimate gift by including St. Jude in her estate plans, along with providing for her daughter. "After visiting St. Jude, I could not think of anything more loving and rewarding than to know that my legacy can help to cure a child," Ellie says.
Through the years, Ellie's pride in her heritage and her admiration of Danny Thomas have fueled her dedication, "Danny was truly a remarkable and decent person. He was very proud of his background and he said to us, 'Never denounce your heritage.'"
She adds, "If he hadn't had the character that he did, Danny never could have accomplished what he did. I don't think anyone could ever say a negative thing about him."
Learn more about Charitable Gift Bequests