Benefit concert raises $5,600 for St. Jude

Nick Stroman

Ryan Beck and Brian Wierenga will have more than a few extra helping hands when they start planning next year’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital benefit concert in Washington.

 The first annual event Saturday at Crossroads United Methodist Church was so successful — raising $5,600 for St. Jude — that Beck said the duo had barely left the stage when people were approaching to congratulate them and pitch in for efforts to put on a second show.

“People were asking if we could come sing at their churches, when and if we would be doing the concert again and if there were CDs and DVDs going to be made available of what they just saw. I would say it was definitely positive for everyone that attended,” Beck said.

Beck is an East Peoria firefighter and St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria runner who organized and performed at the concert along with Wierenga.

Wierenga plays piano and Beck provides vocals and the two have been performing music at Crossroads for several years.

Among the sponsors for the first-year event were John Bearce Suzuki, Washington Community Bank, the Semonis family of East Peoria, Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston and Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy.

McCoy actually approached Beck with the idea for the fundraiser and helped bring others on board to donate to the worthy cause.

“Not all of our sponsors were able to be at the show, but the ones who were gave us a very favorable response. I think they can be pretty pleased with investment. We had 400 people in attendance and it was a free concert, yet we still raised over $5,000 just from goodwill offerings,” Beck said.

The sponsors’ generous donations also helped cut down on costs for the concert, Beck said, along with the high-tech equipment and talented musicians the church already had within its walls.

“We were able to produce most of the show without having to go outside for help, and I think it astounded people the resources we already had at our disposal and the talented people at our church. Lots of music and technical stuff was taken care of in house, and anything more complicated than that, like video or sound mixing, we used the sponsorship money to hire out,” Beck said.

Wierenga and Beck made calls to area musicians to round out the night’s set list, and Beck said he was amazed how they immediately agreed to join them.

“We had musicians from Bloomington and harmonica players from Germantown Hills and several others from outside the Washington area. They didn’t have any idea who we were, but just by faith, they were happy to do this and drive here for rehearsals,” Beck said.

“Some are still willing to help out and hop in for next year, and even though they had other things going on, they wanted to help out these St. Jude kids and take time out,” he added.

Three St. Jude families from Washington, Pekin and Tremont also spoke to the concert audience between songs, and Beck said one of them was the first to agree to help them out, even though she was virtually a stranger.

“I knew of Debbie Wendel and the story of her daughter, Lexi, passing away around five years ago. I called Debbie up even though I had only met her, maybe once, when were answering phones together at a radiothon. She said she had something else going on, but she changed her plans and is very excited to do it again next year,” Beck said.

Many of the attendees approached Beck minutes after the show to say it was a very fulfilling night of worship and praise, which he said is the greatest reward he could ask fo,r besides raising the money for St. Jude.

“They said they knew they would hear good music, but didn’t expect to be spiritually moved as much as they were. We have already decided we’re doing this again next year and are currently looking at the logistics of releasing some type of recording of the night,” Beck said.

“We’re very happy after this weekend, and it’s more than we had ever dreamed it was going to be,” he added.

For more information about the St. Jude benefit concert “Uplifted” and how to help with next year’s efforts, visit