All for a good cause
Bill Fuller has had a mustache for so long that not even his own children know what he looks like without it.
"I started it the day I graduated high school, June 1, 1969," the recently retired Ellsworth High School assistant principal said.
But later this year the venerable facial hair could be shaved clean as part of a fundraising idea by stepson Ben Schmidt.
The Fuller family and friends are taking part in the Out of the Darkness Walk benefitting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, going on today in Colvill Park. If the team raises $2,500 by the end of the year, Fuller's mustache is coming off.
The idea of offering his stepfather's mustache popped up while the family was sitting around the house one night, Schmidt said, adding that they had been pressuring him to shave it for a while now.
"It's something we bug him about."
Considering how long Fuller has sported the mustache, convincing him to go along with the plan was surprisingly easy.
"At the time I thought it was a joke," said Fuller, who agreed to the idea believing the team's fundraising goal was too high.
However, with more than three months left to collect donations and nearly a quarter of the goal already met, Fuller admitted he is starting to get nervous.
"He's not backing out, we're not letting him" Schmidt assured.
"I'll go through with it," Fuller said. "It's for a good cause."
This is the second year the Red Wing area has held a Out of the Darkness Walk, and the second time the Fuller family has taken part, said Emma Fuller, team captain and Bill Fuller's wife.
Participating in the walk brings back difficult memories, but Emma Fuller said it is worth it for the potential to help other families avoid the grief and heartache of suicide.
Their team name is Irvin Impact in honor of Judy and Anthony Irvin, Emma Fuller's sister and nephew who took their own lives within months of each other just over 10 years ago.
His cousin's death was particularly hard for Schmidt, both of whom were high school seniors at the time.
"We were pretty much inseparable," Schmidt said. "Like brothers."
He also has a connection to AFSP member and event co-founder Gloria Krause Barker, whose son Ryan took his own life in 2003.
Schmidt said he was best friends with Ryan, adding the last time they were together was when he stayed over at his high school graduation party.
Three tragic losses in such a short amount of time impacted her son greatly, Emma Fuller said.
"It was devastating to his life," she said. "He had a lot of struggles."
Schmidt said he now hopes to help other people going through similar difficulties — both through fundraisers like Out of the Darkness Walk and by studying criminal justice at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical.
His goal is to one day work as a substance-abuse counselor.
"It's about taking a negative from my past and turning it into something positive," Schmidt said.
Donations raised by team Irvin Impact, as well as more than hundred other people participating in today's walk, go to fund AFSP's education and advocacy work, Krause Barker said.
Last year's donations were used in part to provide area schools with DVDs from More Than Sad, a suicide prevention program for educators.
The suicide rate is on the rise in the state, going up 13 percent in between 2010 and 2011, according to data released Aug. 30 by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The figure underscores the need for greater outreach to help people who are suffering, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a statement.
Krause Barker said she and other AFSP members have been in Washington, D.C, this year to convince lawmakers to support mental health legislation that would increase the number of available mental health facilities and training for teachers and school administrators.
Everybody they have talked to so far has seen the need for action, she said.
Donations for team Irvin Impact can be submitted online through the end of the year at http://bit.ly/17EjWg0.