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Greg Peters column: Wonder what a rhino is?

I hear people trying to be "right" every single day; health care; tax plans; stand up; kneel down!

Many of us spend more energy than a hydrogen bomb trying to prove ourselves "right" and the last time I checked, there's no hall of fame for wins and losses in life's National Fracas League.

For in life, the most ingenious solutions are usually the most simple, rarely bickered.

R.J. Palacio, author of "Wonder" (now made into a movie), writes, "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind."

"Choosing kind" is the backbone of a cancer patient assistance fundraising organization called "Rhino's" and it's right here in River Falls.

Mike Prine, nicknamed "Rhino," was diagnosed with cancer the summer before his senior year at River Falls High School in 1985.

"Rhino worked at Video Update in the building by where Pizza Hut is now," said classmate and friend, Brad Vier, "and he would go to work with his I.V. in."

Rhino would also watch his friends, including Vier and Mike Miller, play softball during the summer.

"There's times he (Rhino) had just finished with a chemo session," said Miller, "and he would be right there on the bench watching us play."

Rhino lost his battle with cancer in 1991 and the same softball team, mostly River Falls High School 1986 grads, continued to play in the annual River Falls Days' softball tournament. Picking a team name was as easy as renting Rocky IV on VHS or Beta at Video Update; they named their team "Rhino's."

"We won a couple hundred bucks the first year we played as Rhino's," said Vier, "and we gave it to a family in town dealing with cancer hoping it would help them a little bit in honor of Rhino."

"It just seemed to go from there," said Miller.

As the group grew older and stopped playing softball, they focused their fundraising efforts on an annual golf tournament. The first Rhino's Golf Tournament was held the Friday of River Falls Days at Kilkarney Hills in 1998. This summer will be the 20th anniversary, but, much like beating cancer, the Rhino's Foundation has been an uphill road filled with pot holes and prosperity.

"In 2006, the tournament flopped," said Vier, "we weren't organized and everyone was getting busy with their own kids. We only had about 40 people play that year."

"Raising the money was really the easy part;" said Miller, "the hardest part was finding who to give it to."

Rhino's started donating $500 to any person in River Falls with cancer. No hoops. No red tape. No fanfare. Rhino's just provided a random act of kindness one person at a time in the form of a check. It helped with anything from groceries to a mortgage payment.

One of the Rhino recipients in 2009 was River Falls' resident Brian Olson. Brad Vier personally delivered a check to wife Amy, at her work. Amy is the daughter of Tom Carroll, Rhino's former Wildcat football coach.

"It was like pennies from heaven at the time," said, Amy. "We both were in tears. We were so overwhelmed in every way. It was like getting a big hug from River Falls; that someone was thinking about us."

Brian battled colon, liver, lung, and bone cancer for five long years, before passing away in 2014.

"It's not just a physical battle," said Amy. "It's emotional and affects every aspect of your life. I wasn't just a wife; I was also a caregiver and a counselor, too."

Amy said the Rhino's encounter has made her more giving and kinder to people. She feels "really strongly about Rhino's" and she is not alone.

This is where the story of Rhino's compounds interest both literally and figuratively. Rhino's is a real life example of "paying it forward." The more people unexpectedly receiving kindness from Rhino's, the more people there are wanting to lend a hand. Genius is simple. The more one gives; the more one receives.

Brian Olson's widow, Amy Jenkins (now married to Nick Jenkins), serves on Rhino's Board of Directors.

"Social media has made our job of finding those in need much easier," says Jenkins.

In 2011, the Rhino's organization was still having issues finding "who" to bestow with their random act of kindness. They partnered with the River Falls Area Hospital, as the RFAH had knowledge of which families were undergoing cancer treatment.

Amy Cernohous, Cancer Care Coordinator at the River Falls Area Hospital, said Rhino's has upgraded the therapy chairs with heat and massage.

"Patients can be in those chairs receiving infusions for up to eight hours a day; Rhino's just wanted those eight hours to be as comfortable as possible," Cernohous said.

Rhino's also gives stacks of $100 grocery and gas gift cards to nurses to hand out to every cancer patient in their care, above and beyond the regular gift per family.

"At first they're (the cancer patient recipients) surprised, but then they are very grateful and very thankful," said Cernohous.

Rhino's started giving $500 to each family in need and now the amount is $1,000 per family. Not by coincidence, since 2012, the River Falls Hospital Foundation also gives up to $1,000 per family stricken with cancer for help covering household bills.

Shelly Hanson and her mom, Georgia Kelm, were also recipients of Rhino's. Mother and daughter were both diagnosed with cancer on Good Friday in 2014.

"Shelly said she wasn't going to let mom go through it alone," said her brother, Jason Kelm. "When she received the gift from Rhino's she just started crying and I think that says it all."

Shelly Hanson lost her fight with cancer in October 2015 but she was so appreciative of the kindness Rhino's showed her and her mom, she asked for donations to be sent to Rhino's in lieu of flowers at her funeral.

Rhino's has always had a laser focused mission: the recipient has to have cancer and they have to be from River Falls. Kindness and cancer, however, don't abide by city limits.

Todd Hess is from Hudson and five years ago he had a malignant tumor in his hip. His doctors said he should have a goal to just be able to walk again.

"My goal wasn't just to walk again," said Hess. "My goal was to be in a deer stand."

Vier was a friend of Todd's and this time Rhino's gift went outside the city limits. Once again, the more one gives; the more one receives. Hess is not only back in a deer stand, he's dearly standing up for Rhino's, helping raise funds through Hudson Hockey and Hudson business donations.

"I'm not a doctor and I can't cure cancer," said Hess. "But Rhino's helped me out and I can help my community out, too, so that's what I want to do."

Hess said, "To me, Rhino's is the best organization and it's right under everybody's noses and nobody knows about it. These are our neighbors."

The Rhino's Foundation currently supports cancer patients in River Falls, Hudson, and now, Prescott. The same Rhino's Golf Tournament that flopped in 2006 with 40 people, well, the infusion of kindness has "kind of" flip-flopped this. If you'd like to play in the 2018 tourney, you'd better let them know soon because it maxed-out at 190 golfers last year (rhinosfoundation.org).

As "Wonder" author R.J. Palacio also says, "Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world."

It's the time of year to say "thank you" and give a standing ovation to the Rhino's Foundation; truly a River Falls' "Wonder."

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