When Jan Emmons' father died of alcoholism and no one came to his funeral, it changed her life.
"When I die, I want to know I've touched somebody, I've made a difference," the 40-year-old says.
She has already. Emmons was chosen as the county's Most BeautifulPerson last week, nominated by dozens of letters from people who praised her work with cancer patients.
"When you get down to the nitty-gritty, it doesn't matter what you have materialistically," Emmons says. "It matters if you show people you care."
The Deale residenthas made that philosophy her lifestyle.
In her spare time, away from her job as a receptionist at Hechinger, Emmons wages war on cancer as Sunrise the Clown. She takes balloon animals, puppets, face-painting, magic and laughter into cancer wards from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to Children's Hospital in Washington.
She works to grant the wishes of terminally ill children. They want to meet a music video star, go to a special place or get away for the weekend? She works it out.
Emmons also clowns at fund-raisers for cancer research. Since she started clowning in 1974, she has raised about $35,000 for research, as well as showering children and their families with presents.
"People always told me I should be a comedian. But I didn't feel comfortable on stage. I liked to dress up, and the clowning just emerged," Emmons says.
"I got involved because I love kids so much," she says, but her motivation stems from losing people she loved to cancer. Her mother died in 1974 of cancer. She has lost 10 otherfamily member to cancer, as well as three close friends.
Instead of collapsing with grief, Emmons fought back.
"I was very angry when my mother died. But I wanted to take the emotions out in a positive manner. I wanted to find dollars to help find the cure. We're getting closer every day.
Dozens of letters testifying to Emmons' effectiveness prompted four community judges to choose her from 70 nominees for the county's Most Beautiful Person. She and the rest of the nominees will be honored at a reception Oct. 10, sponsored by Glen Burnie's An Affair to Remember by TR.
The letters nominating Emmons were stuffed with superlatives.
"Words cannot begin to include all she has accomplished or describe her God-given gift for making childrenhappy," one county resident wrote.
Says Karen Henry, who helped organize the event with the county's Community Service department, "She's a phenomenal lady. It's not an easy task helping children who aredying. It's not the most pleasant thing a person can dedicate their life to doing. But children love her."
One reason the Churchton resident is so adored is that she sees beyond obvious medical needs to emotional needs. Explains Todd Paulus, a 12-year-old who is terminally ill with cancer, "For two Christmases, she has brought gifts for meand my mother. One year she gave me money so that I could buy presents."
Emmons organized a fund-raiser Saturday in Deale to help Toddtake a vacation with his mother and stepfather. "I want to swim and to see the sights and go fishing to catch a really big fish -- a marlin, I hope," he wrote.
Todd's stepfather, Robert Gray, calls Emmons "the most wonderful person in the whole world. She's got a heart ofgold. She will give you her all.
"She's brought so much joy to our lives."
Gray says Emmons will do anything to help a cancer patient. "She's the most persistent person in the whole world," he says. After Emmons found out the Todd hoped to meet singer Paula Abdul, she arranged to have Abdul send him personalized pictures, an unreleased cassette tape and a video.
Also, when she takes gifts to cancer patients, she takes gifts for their siblings, too.
Parents benefit, too. Emmons says she realized families often had no place to go with the child who had cancer where they all could relax. "Working closelywith children in hospitals, I kept seeing parents take siblings to Aunt Tilly or Uncle Ben," Emmons says.
When a recovering cancer patient offered to donate 70 acres for the families of cancer patients, Emmons organized Fantasy Valley in Southern Maryland.
"No matter how busy you are, take time to help someone else," she suggests. "If someone is sick, go to the store for them. You really do reap what yousow.
"So many times people say, 'Oh God, it's morning', instead of 'Good morning, God.' We can choose how to make our day. When you work with people who are fighting for their lives, our problems seem minimal."