3rd Annual Robert’s Rendezvous Enlightens, Entertains & Enriches Community

  |   Community

The village of Amherst came together from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Amherst Fairgrounds for the third annual Robert’s Rendezvous, an event that enlightens, entertains and enriches the community and eulogizes the life of Robert Lea, Jr., a man who lost his battle with mesothelioma back in 2015.

The main focus of Robert’s Rendezvous is to shed a light on the deadly effects of asbestos exposure, which can lead to mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer.

Mesothelioma can be present in two forms in the body: the lungs, which is more common, or in the stomach, which is more rare.

“Robert had the stomach mesothelioma, which means it was caused by swallowing asbestos fibers,” Shawn Lea, wife of the late Robert Lea, Jr. said.

Although it’s tough for the family to identify when and where Robert was exposed, doctors told them that it can incubate for 25 to 30 years, meaning he could have been exposed to it at the age of 15 and not known. According to Lea, Robert worked a lot with items that are now known to contain asbestos.

Currently, asbestos is banned in 55 countries and despite its virulence, it’s still legal in the U.S. and five other countries. It can be found in a variety of products, including many that the public may not be aware of.

“Asbestos has been found in crayons and children’s makeup in China,” Melissa Blenker, sister of Robert said. “The problem is asbestos is mined right next to talc powder and it’s common for the asbestos to contaminate the talc. Talc-based products such as baby products and other cosmetic products like makeup are sold without the knowledge of the asbestos being present until a group like ADAO [Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization] tests the product.”

Blenker said the best to way to prevent exposure is to ban asbestos. Robert’s family donates every year to the ADAO, which tirelessly works to make sure asbestos is one day completely banned.

Blenker said she flew to Washington D.C. this past December to work with the ADAO and the National Wildlife Federation Office to speak with the Wisconsin State Senators Office and the Wisconsin House of Representatives Office about items in the proposed 2018 budget that would have a major impact on asbestos in the U.S.

“The work this group is doing is amazing, but working against large lobby groups that work with big budgets for their cause, which is to get asbestos imports increased and rules on its use [implemented] are hard to battle against,” Blenker said. “To prevent exposure, you should be aware of your surroundings and the products that you are allowing yourself and your family to be exposed to.”

Two years ago, Robert’s family created Robert’s Rendezvous as a way to campaign for further mesothelioma research and raise awareness about the deadliness of asbestos exposure—all while giving back to the community, as a testament to Robert’s generosity.

“I love that we gather with family and friends to remember Robert and through that celebration, we get to give back in his name,” Blenker said. “Robert was always very generous to the community so we are happy to keep that going. We always try to give back to things that Robert enjoyed or participated in, it feels amazing to honor him this way. When we present checks to the scholarship winners and to groups in town for projects it’s like we are leaving a tiny bit of Robert there and hopefully they keep thinking about him, too.”

Robert’s Rendezvous gives $2,000 scholarships for graduating seniors who intend to go into an undergraduate program majoring in agriculture, English, or plan to attend a technical school or apprentice program, with a concentration on the fields of plumbing or carpentry. All areas that his family said were important to him.

“The gratification of the scholarship receivers or the project coordinators who are closer to their goals for certain projects is very rewarding,” Lea said. “It is also very rewarding seeing how Robert can bring this community together. He was and still is a lovable guy. He is missed and people still want to celebrate him. He was one of the good guys.”

Robert’s family said they hope to raise enough money each year to continually offer scholarships in Robert’s name to Amherst High School as well as support requested community projects, with the end goal being to offer the scholarships each year in Robert’s name, after the event ends in 2020.

So far, Robert’s Rendezvous has given $40,000 back to the community and $10,000 toward mesothelioma research in the two years that it has run.

“Our biggest accomplishment is seeing the love for Robert,” Lea said. “As his family, we are honored by all who have come to his event by donating, volunteering, baking, or simply taking the time to enjoy the event.”

Event goers enjoyed the event with a free-will meal offering, a bake sale and a couple new bands introduced to the Robert’s Rendezvous stage this year. They include The Drovers, who performed from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then The Spicy Tie Band, who performed from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

While the bands performed, the public had the opportunity to make an impact monetarily to the cause with the purchase of raffle tickets.

One set of tickets could be used to enter into the basket raffle, which included many home products and recreational products and another set of tickets could be used to enter into the gun raffle. Winners of the raffles were selected and announced late in the event that night.

“The most rewarding part of this event, for me, is to see the overwhelming support of our community,” Rick Martin, brother of Robert said. “When I think what happened to my brother and what has happened to so many affected by mesothelioma—it’s a great feeling to know that people care about trying to improve the awareness of the effects of asbestos and improving the treatments available for mesothelioma. Every single person out there can make an impact. If you can’t help monetarily, then be a vocal advocate for helping every one understand that this can happen to anyone. Awareness is key.”