Written by Declan Harty
Weishar family hosts second big bash to help cancer victims’ families
Andrew Weishar’s name will live on.Dan and Nic Weishar are getting the word out about WeishFest II at Standard Bank Park Saturday, which raises money in the name of the late Andrew Weishar (inset photo) for cancer victims’ families. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
Even though he would not like the attention, he would love the result.
Weishar, who was known for his quiet manner and humility, will be honored Saturday at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood at the second WeishFest – pronounced Wish-fest. The 21-year-old Midlothian native passed away in October 2012 after a four-year battle with colorectal cancer, but left behind a legacy that has stricken communities across the state.
Family members said that in his final days, Weishar only thought of others. His request to have his family “pay forward” the support that it received during his battle was fulfilled in last year’s inaugural WeishFest, and will live on again this Saturday.
WeishFest, which kicks off at 2 p.m., is an all-day music festival featuring five different artists. Local and upcoming artists such as Sean & Charlie, Chris Medina, C2 and the Brothers Reed and Infinity will all lead up to the headliner, Rodney Atkins, who will go on at 9 p.m. Tickets for the event can be purchased at WeishFest.com, and Standard Bank seating tickets cost $25, and field access cost $35, with varying levels of VIP tickets available as well.
After raising $125,000 from the 2,500 people in attendance last year, Dan Weishar, president and executive director of the Andrew Weishar Foundation (AWF) and Andrew’s younger brother has managed to spearhead the event this year.
Dan Weishar said that the organization is prepared to make WeishFest huge, whether that includes keeping the event at Standard Bank Stadium for a few more years and then growing it or ending up at Wrigley Field in 10 years, he said they have an open mind. Weishar said they “just have got to have a great WeishFest 2014, thinking about this year.”
Dan, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that it is because of the support his family received before and after Andrew passed that made him want to return the favor through both the AWF and WeishFest.
“The communities around us could not have been a bigger support for us,” he said. “There are a lot of people in his (Andrew’s) situation who need help, like the help that we got, and he wanted to make sure that we pay forward that generosity. That is really what sparked the Andrew Weishar Foundation.”
A St. Damien Lancer, Brother Rice Crusader and Illinois Wesleyan Titan, Andrew affected communities from central Illinois to Chicago, but it was through social media that Andrew’s story spread. After #Weish4Ever went viral, thousands of people were impacted by the 21-year-old and his relentless mindset towards his battle with cancer.
After a semester of playing football at Illinois Wesleyan, a consistent powerhouse in NCAA Division III football, Weishar’s college career was looking bright. But during the spring semester of his freshman year, he began to lose weight dramatically, and was later diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 19.
Immediately beginning treatment and having to drop out of school, Andrew was facing a battle that was uncommon for a 19-year-old.
After months of intensive chemotherapy, Andrew went into surgery in Minnesota and would later go into remission. But after spending months visiting friends at Illinois Wesleyan and even going abroad with fellow titan, Ted Delicath, who now serves on the AWF board, Andrew was re-diagnosed.
After an emotional and trying four years of battling cancer, Andrew passed away October 12, 2012, a matter of hours before some of Andrew’s best friends would take the field against Carthage in Bloomington. The game resulted in a win for the Titans, and spurred on the spreading of Andrew’s story.
“There was a group of guys that were so close to him that their love for him kind of permeated out,” Delicath said. “So other people began to understand the story, and see the love in our eyes. I think that is very telling of the kind of person Andrew was… It was very evident that the community bought into the type of values that he stood for.”
But the Illinois Wesleyan and Bloomington communities weren’t the only ones who found Andrew’s story inspirational.
After attending both St. Damien and Brother Rice, Andrew and the Weishar family have the support of South Siders. Both Dan and Andrew have maintained a South Side mindset, along with their youngest brother, Nic, who will play tight end at Notre Dame next year after a successful high school career at Marist.
True South Siders
According to Delicath, the Weishar family embodies everything a South Sider is.
“Andrew is a quiet, quiet guy with just a ferocious spirit and a lot of courage,” the Peoria native said. “What you will find out about a lot of people on the South Side is that they are a little bit more talkative than Andrew, but also that they are very tough, dedicated and driven people, and Andrew embodied all of that.”
Being from the South Side, Dan Weishar said it was only right to make sure the event is in the heart of Andrew’s largest support and close to home -- Crestwood’s Standard Bank Stadium, the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts.
“The fact is that this stadium is in the heart of our support. It is in the middle of where we grew up, and it is in the middle of all the high schools around us,” Dan said. “It is really the heart and soul of the Andrew Weishar Foundation in that we have everybody around us.”
The stadium also allows for Andrew’s spirit to continue spreading through the crowd. The stadium, which holds approximately 3,200 people, will allow for the crowd to get an atmosphere that is unlike any other concert.
“You get there and there is an intimate feeling in the setting,” Delicath said. “I think you could only get that to happen on the south side and that can only happen when you have a memory of someone who lived very much like that. Someone that was bigger than life, and then when you met them, they made you feel like you were the only person in the world.”
Fun at the fest
WeishFest is designed, according to Dan, to allow the crowd to come and go as they please after paying an initial rate, and to simply enjoy the day, all while honoring Andrew and raising money for families affected by cancer.
The funds from WeishFest are 100 percent given back to families in need. With the assistance of a social worker and a partnership with Hope Children’s Hospital, the AWF has already helped over 15 families that have been financially stricken with the burden of cancer. But according to Dan, the difference between the AWF and other organizations is that these families receive immediate financial assistance, all in the name of Andrew.
“There is nothing like telling people, we are giving you this money because of Andrew Weishar. It is the most gratifying thing in the world, and I am pretty excited about continuing to do that,” Dan said. “There is no question that Andrew Weishar is in the spirit of the foundation that Andrew Weishar is in the spirit of WeishFest.”
For Dan, this year’s WeishFest may be the beginning of WeishFest and the Andrew Weishar Foundation’s hopeful and expected growth.
“This year is pretty big in terms of how quickly we are expanding. The actual investment of WeishFest is massive, it is a huge, huge event, but we think that as long as we sell tickets and as long as we get people here that day, it is going to pay off,” he said. “I started the Andrew Weishar Foundation with really one intention and that intention was to honor Andrew, and his legacy, and that is what we did in starting it, and it really has taken off from there. Obviously as we grow we are going to hopefully be able to grow the amount of families we can help each year. There really is no limit.”