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Marshfield pier draws 100 for Ice Bucket Challenge

Doug and Sue Shillito’s event raised more than $3,100 for an organization supporting families with ALS

Posted Sep. 10, 2015 at 5:15 AM
By Kristi Funderburk

Sue Shillito pours ping-pong balls over her husband Doug, the guest of honor at the Ice Bucket Challenge. The couple hosted the event to raise money for Compassionate Care ALS, a non-profit organization that supports families struggling with ALS like the Shillitos. Wicked Local Staff Photo/Alyssa Stone

The Town Pier buzzed in conversation as a crowd grew around the boat ramp.

Some came from out of town, others came off fishing boats. A few walked.

They only had a few days notice, but each made it a priority to meet at the pier on the final night of August for one reason—to soak themselves in icy water for an old friend.

Doug Shillito was their mechanic, their gas attendant, the guy who sold them candy. He was the guy who, along with his wife, Sue, decorated his gas station for holidays.

The Shillitos ran the Cedarview Filling Station until this past November when Doug’s battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a progressive neurodegenerative disease commonly called ALS) became too much for them to continue running the business they’d run for more than 12 years.

Until then it was Mayberry, he said. They came to meet so many people in the greater area, and they never forget them, or vice versa.

Their affect on the community was evident in their company that Monday night (Aug. 31). The couple hosted an Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for families struggling with ALS—more than 100 people crowded onto the wooden planks, water-filled buckets in tow.

“It was touching,” Sue said of the turnout. “I’m not surprised because that’s just the way people are, but it was still touching.”

Doug was diagnosed with ALS on Valentine’s Day 2012, Sue said.

He was 49 years old and in seemingly perfect health when he started showing symptoms—stiffness, weakness, and a twitching of the nerves.

They went to a doctor who thought it was ALS and then sent them to Boston where doctors confirmed it.

From there, Doug enjoyed his last few years on the job.

“He worked as much as possible, as long as possible,” Sue said.

They started to tell people in May 2013 what was happening. Doug had back problems previously, and some people attributed his shuffling around to that, but as his symptoms worsened, the Shillitos knew they needed to tell the filling station staff.

First he lost use of his arms and legs, and more recently, he’s lost his speech, Sue said.

“Every muscle in your body just stops working,” she said. “It’s a cruel torture.”

After his diagnosis, the Shillitos spent a lot of time online in search of answers, Sue said.

The cause and cure of ALS are still unclear.

Sue had not known much about ALS before Doug’s diagnosis and is thrilled to see the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge, both in raising money and awareness.

At their own challenge, they asked for donations to support Compassionate Care ALS. The West Falmouth-based non-profit organization helps families struggling with ALS like the Shillitos find support, guidance, subsidized living aids, durable goods and respite opportunities, Sue explained.

With the support of their friends, the Shillitos raised more than $3,100 that night.

The event was the second for the Shillitos. The couple hosted a challenge with about 30 people at their home in early August. After putting up pictures on Facebook, they got so many responses from people saying they would have come that they planned another.

Days before the Aug. 31 challenge, they sent out notice, mostly by word of mouth, to come to the pier. Noting the challenge motto, “Every August until a cure,” Sue said it was their last chance.

As a breeze blew over the harbor the late afternoon of their second challenge, Sue took a moment to thank the crowd.

“Each and every one of you has a special place in our heart,” she said.

The pier was so crowded with participants Sue couldn’t see them all, but she admitted later, she knew nearly every one. The only strangers were people who stopped to watch.

Sue poured a small bucket of ping-pong balls on her husband, and ran over to the group to grab her own bucket of water. She counted down—one, two, three! Then came a splash and rising volume of squeals, which quickly subsided to cheers and claps on the buckets.

“It felt great,” Sue said afterward.

The Keeler family had three generations at the pier for the challenge.

“Doug and Sue have meant a lot to us for a long time,” Dennis Keeler of Marshfield said. “They’re pillars of the community, they’re good people and we’re here to support them in any way we can.”

His son, Shane, who along with his siblings and cousins only got further soaked with a hose long after the buckets were dry, called the challenge “really fun.”

“I did it for Doug,” he said.

The Green family of Pembroke came prepared with five buckets, each sized in proportion to the person using it.

The three children, ranging from 4 to 8 years old, had small buckets while their parents would hold more of the icy water.

“We’re doing it for Doug, to support our friends and the overall cause of ALS,” Rob Green said.

Dennis Morey, a Marshfield lobsterman, has been coming to the pier for about 30 years and has often stopped at Cedarview for repairs, so he came out to support his old friends.

He wasn’t surprised at the crowd that turned out for the challenge.

“That’s the community,” he said matter-of-factually, “trying to back their efforts.”

His grandchildren, Morgan and Kevin Murphy of Pembroke, joined him and though they admitted having mixed feelings about an ice bucket challenge, each wore swimsuits to the pier ready to go.

“At first I didn’t want to do it, but now I do,” Kevin, 9, said as he watched more people arrive.

The Shillitos said they were grateful to Jeff Blackman, Mike Duane and all the Marshfield lobstermen for encouraging the event at the pier. They were also thrilled to see their old staff, particularly long-time employees, Bob Souza, Bryan Lucas, and Nick and Jack Mann, attend.

“Doug is a great person,” Duane said. “This is a great event to help.”