GREEN BAY – Cherry Starr is carrying on a tradition the way her late husband would want her to.
After he retired from his Hall of Fame football career, former Packers quarterback Bart Starr would write letters to other QBs and NFL friends around this time of year, wishing them well during the upcoming season.
Bart called these his "annual kickoff notes," and he looked forward to sending them every year.
Now it's Cherry who is filled with anticipation in late summer/early fall, as she's become the author of the kickoff notes and is putting them toward a worthy cause close to the Starrs' hearts.
The notes from Cherry, which she sends to all 32 starting quarterbacks plus some retired legends, come with a helmet that she asks the QBs to autograph and send back for the Starr Children's Fund's "Helmets for Heroes" fundraiser for pediatric cancer, an annual auction of these specially procured pieces of memorabilia.
"I am proud to draft these notes telling the players about our mission, why we need their help, and what their gift will do for the children," Cherry Starr explained via email correspondence with packers.com. "I always hand write an additional message on each letter because I want these special gentlemen to know it's really from me. We could not do this without their help, period."
The annual auction is taking place through Sept. 14, and bids can be placed by logging onto https://www.lombardifoundation.org/helmetsforheroes. Helmet signed by all 32 starting QBs are available, and each comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Back in 2017, two years before Bart Starr passed away, the Starr Children's Fund for pediatric cancer was established through the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation to honor and recognize the Starrs for their longtime support of the foundation.
Shortly thereafter, Chellee Siewert of Capture Sports and Entertainment brought the "Helmets for Heroes" auction idea to the Starrs, and the campaign is now in its fourth year. Most impressive, the letters have received a 100% response rate.
"When Chellee came to us with the idea of Helmets for Heroes, it was emotional for me because I felt it was just what Bart would want me to do in his place," Cherry said. "For the last four years, during the second week of August, I am the excited one. I can hardly wait to get our 'kickoff note' in the mail because of how generous everyone has been to our cause."
The outreach has included several quarterback legends, too, as this year's auction also features helmets signed by Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
Brees has sent autographed helmets both as an active and retired player, and Cherry enjoys telling the story of how she got a call once from Brees – winner in 2011 of the Bart Starr Award, which annually honors the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community – and he addressed her as "Mrs. Cherry."
"The voice on the other line said, 'Mrs. Cherry?' I said, 'Who is calling, please?'" Cherry recalled. "The man said, 'Drew Brees.' I said, 'How do I know it's the real Drew Brees?'"
He then confirmed his identity as the winner of the award named after her husband.
"We laughed and he told me the purpose of his call was to let me know how much he appreciated what we were doing and thanked me for asking him to be involved," Cherry said.
It's the same way Cherry feels about all levels of the charitable venture – from the foundation, to the fund, to the auction … and the meaningful purpose behind the letters she writes in her late husband's stead.
"We could not think of a better way to be involved," Cherry said. "Our goal is to grow the Starr Children's Fund to be the premier program in supporting pediatric-specific cancer treatment, and essential family services for our country."