MODESTO — Wayne Brown runs one of the very few for-profit fireworks stands still in Modesto, but for 18 years says he's tried to do his part to support worthy causes. Each year, he welcomes churches and other groups, which sell $10 scrip tickets for use at his booth and keep 25 percent.
This year, Brown partnered to benefit two Modesto churches Calvary Lutheran and Sunrise Christian Fellowship and two individuals one of them his wife.
Two years ago, Sherri Brown, who does payroll for the Sylvan Union School District, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. "They did chemo first, to try to reduce everything that was in me," she said Thursday at the Phantom Fireworks booth in the Hobby Lobby parking lot on McHenry Avenue. That was in July 2011; later that year, she underwent a single mastectomy. That was followed by six weeks of radiation treatment, then an antibody treatment that ended last September.
Now, Sherri is awaiting reconstructive surgery. She appreciates that she has good insurance through the school district, but her upcoming surgery will eat up all her sick and vacation time, so income from the fireworks booth "will help offset that."
The Browns were hit hard this week by the death of the other individual whom scrip sales were helping. That longtime friend and business associate lost her fight with breast cancer days ago. She'd been diagnosed only three months earlier.
Just as Sherri was sharing those stories, a fellow cancer survivor swung by the booth simply to make a donation of $10. Noël Bosson works for Burkett's Pool Plastering in Ripon. Wayne Brown runs a bulk-mailing business that works with Burkett's, so Bosson saw an office email about his booth and its causes.
"I'm a breast cancer survivor myself," she said. In January, her doctor's office "called me and said it had been a long time since I had a mammogram." She had it done immediately, and the next day received emails and voice messages calling her back in. Never good news.
"The room filled with doctors," Bosson said of her return appointment. She was diagnosed with stage 2 and had lumpectomy surgery within six days. She finished radiation treatment in May and is all clear.
Of course, no two cases are the same.
"I still have a 50 percent chance of recurrence," Sherri Brown said. "I was a stage 3 when diagnosed. If it comes back, it will be stage 4." In the meantime, she's to see her doctor every four months for the next five years, and "be observant of any changes in my body."
Thursday, her body was busy fighting the heat in the fireworks booth, which has no electricity meaning no cooling fan. Still, the Fourth is the only day she works Wayne's booth, and she was enjoying her time with him and their son Tim.
The true benefit: Family time
Wayne says time with family is his real reward in operating the booth each year. He says it gives him several days working side by side with Tim, and a bit less time with son Mike, who works a graveyard shift so isn't as available.
Fireworks are a family tradition for the Browns. Sherri's dad, Fred Ponder, brought Phantom to town. "I grew up doing fireworks booths here. As long as Phantom has been here," she said, wracking her brain to remember just how long ago that was, "that started with my dad."
Wayne's partnerships with charities began when he attended Big Valley Grace Community Church, he said. "I'd take a year or two off from the fireworks booth, and Big Valley would run it."
"I found Jesus in '96 and I want to help people," he said, and the booth is one way he does it.
Any nonprofit group interested in partnering with him next year should email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee City Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2327.