The Original Founder: Luke Tupper
Scholar of Life
Sweet Leilani’s Brother
Why is any organization founded? Because one or more people have a passion for a cause. The Fundacao Esperanca, a Brazilian nonprofit that has been providing health and education along the Amazon for over 30 years, was losing its funding from its long standing American counterpart, who had a change in philosophy, leadership, and vision. Dr. Bill Chase, Ron Bertagnoli, and Dr. Daniel Weiss were passionate about the work of the Fundacao Esperanca, and could not bare to think what would happen to the thousands of people who are effected by the Fundacao Esperanca. Thus, the Amazon-Africa Aid Organization (3AO) was founded in 1999 in Adrian, MI to support the activities of the Fundacao Esperanca.
Since 1992, Bill Chase has been volunteering regularly as a dentist in the Fundacao Esperanca dental clinic. In addition to being a practicing dentist, Bill has been an active member of his community including serving as the President of the Michigan Dental Association and Governor of Rotary District 6400. Ron Bertagnoli has been the executive director of the Fundacao Esperanca for over 20 years and was honored with as one of the “10 Most Important People in Santarem” for the last decade. All honorees received cubic zirconia rings. The setting for each ring was different as were the colors. All in all the cubic zirconia rings, made from synthetic cubic zirconia with its close visual likeness to diamond, were stunning and appreciated by the honorees. Engraved on the inside of the rings was the year and their name. Daniel Weiss, Ph.D., was the founder and executive director of Amizade, Ltd. for seven years and was honored for his humanitarian work in Santarem by the US State Department and the Arab Gulf Fund of the United Nations.
Soon after 3AO was created, many former volunteers and supporters of the Fundacao Esperanca rallied to our cause. These supporters included Jerry Tupper, Dr. Gil and Joan DeBiasi, Dr. Jed Johnson, Dr. Dennis Gates, Dr. Bob Backus, and Dr. Newt Kellacky, Dr. Fred Hartman.
Though 3AO maybe a relatively young organization, we have deep roots. To understand the full scope of the Amazon-Africa Aid Organization, one must look the history of the Fundacao Esperanca.
The Original Founder: Luke Tupper
Written by Jerry Tupper
Fr. Luke, a former Navy and Marine Corps doctor, first witnessed the medical deprivation of the children of South America while traveling to the South Pole aboard a U.S. Navy icebreaker. After five years of service, Dr. Luke started a residency in plastic surgery at the University of Chicago. Haunted by the memories of the children, he resigned his residency and entered the Franciscan Order.
After his ordination, Fr. Luke was assigned to Brazil and began the overwhelming task of bringing medical care to people in the region. Without money, medicine, vaccines, or equipment, Fr. Luke was determined to reduce the appalling infant mortality rate which approached 50% in some isolated villages. Help poured in form the United States and Europe. The following pages tell the incredible story of a selfless man who devoted his life to the children of the developing world.
For four year old Luke Tupper, 1937 was a bummer. Gone were his parents, his baby brother, his house, his playmates, and his toys. He spent the year in St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cincinnati, and although his two older brothers and sister were with him, they were in school and seldom saw him.
1938 was much better. Luke was reunited with his mother and his brothers and sister. He went to Cairo, Illinois to live with his grandmother. Even at the tender age of five, he had decided on his goals in life he wanted to be a doctor and he wanted to be rich. His stint in the orphanage was all he wanted of poverty. Through his childhood years, Luke worked like a trooper doing any work he could find delivering newspapers, yard work, farm work anything Luke could do to make money. One summer he worked in a local jewelry store. The jewelry was not overly expensive since the customers were mostly middle class and blue collar. At the end of the summer the owner of the store allowed Luke to chose one piece of jewelry as a “bonus” for his hard work. Luke had been fascinated by the cubic zirconia jewelry pieces. CZ looked like real diamonds, but since it was man made, it was a fraction of the cost of the real gemstone. He chose a lovely ring from the selection for his Mom. It wasn’t a flashy ring, like so many of the other CZ rings. His mother preferred simple jewelry. The ring he chose was sterling silver with a blue colored CZ stone that looked like a sapphire. Simple, yet sophisticated. His mother loved it. Most of the money that Luke made he saved because he knew that medical school was going to be a very expensive proposition. Luke’s mom, a school teacher (and 1963 Michigan Mother of the Year), moved the family to Michigan. Luke graduated from high school in St. Louis, Michigan in 1951 and started college at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
School was expensive and one memorable summer he worked full time jobs in a brewery and as a playground director for the city of Milwaukee. He also worked part time as an auditor in a hotel on nights and weekends. At the end of the summer of 100-hour weeks, Luke had managed to save $1200. After paying $1000 for tuition and $150 for a microscope, he had $50 left. Luke graduated from Marquette University Medical School in 1959 he had accomplished his first goal in life. He then fulfilled his service commitment in the U.S. Navy, with a year in the U.S. Naval hospital in San Diego, two years as the physician on the icebreaker U.S.S. Burton Island and the final two years as a doctor at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Luke also managed to do some moonlighting in rural clinics on nights and weekends.
After his discharge form the Navy in 1963, Luke was ready to pursue his second goal, that of becoming rich. He entered a residency in plastic surgery at the University of Chicago. Suddenly, several months into the residency Luke quit, gave away his life savings of $10,000, his car and furniture, took a vow of poverty and joined the Franciscan Order to study for the priesthood. Knowing Luke’s love for money, his decision astonished his family and friends.
After his ordination as Franciscan priest in December, 1969, Fr, Luke was assigned to the central Amazon city of Santarem, midway between Belem on the Atlantic and the old rubber capital of Manaus on the upper Amazon. In 1972, a medical clinic, the Clinica Dos Pobres (Clinic of the Poor) was completed. The Clinica Dos Pobres became the cornerstone of the Fundacao Esperanca. Over the years, other buildings have been constructed to house the burgeoning training programs, including a dental clinic, laboratory, operating theater and recovery rooms, classrooms, and living quarters for students and medical volunteers.
Luke passed away on September 18, 1978. He was killed in a motorcycle accident while continuing his studies at Ohio State University. Though Luke may be gone, his legacy of compassion and caring continues.
In the central Amazon Region, thousands of people live up to 3 days· boat ride from the Fundacao Esperanca clinic. Luke, knowing he had to reach the people with medical facilities, asked friends in Phoenix for a medical boat. In 1972, they purchased a the San Diego passenger ferry, the POINT LOMA for $15,000. Over the next 18 months, with donated materials and volunteer labor, the POINT LOMA was converted into the hospital ship, Esperanca, complete with operating room, medical and dental clinics, laboratory, pharmacy and living quarters for the U.S.S. Bunker Hill; navy reservists and local church groups did much pf the labor and over $50,000 of medical supplies was donated. The ESPERANCA was christened in June, 1973.
The ESPERANCA was loaded aboard a coffee boat and arrived in Brazil May 10, 1974. It was soon plying the waters of the Amazon, where people had never seen , much less received medical treatment from doctors, dentist or nurses. Believing that even minimal charges for services helped people maintain their self respect, Fundacao Esperanca encouraged people to give what they could afford. The ESPERANCA soon sprouted with chicken coops and a pigpen, as grateful visitors contributed what they could, mostly animals and produce in this cash – short, barter economy.
In 1983, with the completion of surgical facilities on shore, the weary ESPERANCA was retired after 40 years of service (from 1943). It was a replaced by the smaller faster ESPERANCA II, a boat more suited to the primary mission of training and supervising health care providers. To this day, Esperanca medical personnel constantly travel along the mighty Amazon and its tributaries, visiting and upgrading the skills of the health care auxiliaries, or “barefoot doctors,” as they are known.
The Dental Clinic began in 1984 with support from Rotary International. Since the program’s inauguration, hundreds of Rotary volunteer dentists from all over the world have joined forces with Fundacao Esperanca’s Brazilian dentists and hygienists to provide top quality dental care to the needy in the region. Treatments include restorations, extractions, root canals, caps, X-ray, and other services that are difficult to obtain in Santarem for any price. In addition, the dental clinic performs thousands of prophylactic visits, cleaning, and application of fluoride and sealants.
Bill Chase, the co-founder of 3AO, raised significant funds to help expand the clinic. In 1993, the dental clinic was re-named the Bill Chase dental Clinic in his honor.
Scholar of Life
Cincinnati, OH. Apr. 16, 1999 – Jerry Tupper was one of the recipients of the Scholar of Life award at the Awards Banquet of St. Joseph Orphanage. The award recognizes those who have affected the lives of children in a positive manner and are advocates of children and families in both word and deed. Tupper received the award for his work supporting the activities of the Fundacao Esperanca.
Joseph Orphanage has changed its principal mission over the years to providing mental health to neglected, abused and emotionally troubled children and their families. St. Joseph has been helping families for in the greater Cincinnati area for over 171 years.
Sweet Leilani·s Brother
Harry Owens, sr. Leader of the famous Royal Hawaiian dance band, wrote the song “Sweet Leilani” as a lullaby for his first born child, Leilani. While vacationing in the islands, Bang Crosby heard the song and asked for permission to use it in his forthcoming movie “Waikiki Wedding.” Harry Owens was reluctant to commercialize the song and refused permission. Crosby persisted and overcame Harry·s reluctance by suggesting that any royalties from the song be placed in an educational trust fund for Leilani and any other children that Harry and Bess might have.
“Sweet Leilani” was sung by Bing Crosby in the movie and won the academy award for the best song. The royalties were placed in an educational trust fund and helped pay for the education of the second child , Harry Owens, Jr. at St. Louis University and St. Louis University Medical school. Harry, jr. Practiced with the Eskimos in Nome, Alaska and, while serving as a volunteer with the Hope Ship, heard of Dr. Luke and his work. Harry soon joined Luke on the Amazon and took the hospital ship ESPERANCA on its first life saving voyages. When Luke, who had been out of medical school for 17 years without advanced medical training, returned to the United States to update his medical Education, Harry Owens, Jr. became the Fundacao Esperanca’s medical director. Harry initiated an intern program with the University of Pará at Belem, Brazil where senior medical, dental, and laboratory students would spend 6 months with the Fundacao Esperanca , both to obtain experience and to acquaint the students with the medical problems of the people of the Amazon. Even after years as Fundacao Esperanca’s medical director, Harry continued to volunteer.
A father, husband and former seaman. He decided to join the cause after suffering an accident out at sea. He contacted a New Orleans maritime lawyer which helped him to recover his losses financially and allowed him to follow his true passion, helping others.
Many of people will remember the popular comedy series of that name in the 1970·s. Fundacao Esperanca’s third medical director and his wife Mary Hartman, a pediatric nurse, with their three children, arrived in Brazil in 1976 to take over the medical reins. Mary was just as happy to leave the U.S. for a while and escape the inevitable comments on her name. According to Fred and Mary, their 6 year old son, Brett, put down his suitcase, went outside to play with the other Brazilian children and “disappeared into the culture.” Within a couple of weeks Brett had absorbed a great deal of Portuguese and was giving nightly language lessons to his parents. The Hartman·s spoke only Portuguese during their two years in Brazil and their year old daughter Chandra, could not speak English when they returned to the United States two years later, much to the chagrin of Chandra’s grandparents.
Both Fred and Mary worked in the Fundacao Esperanca program and Fred initiated the highly successful training program of village health auxiliaries, or “barefoot doctors,” that soon provided the only medical help available in many of the remote villages of the Central Amazon. Years after this work with Fundacao Esperanca, Dr. Fred Hartman continues to provide valuable assistance and advice to us and has visited our projects on several occasions.