DeVos Children Become Cujos Kids

October 28, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — It’s strange how sometimes a business alliance ends up resulting in an unrelated and unforeseen benefit.

When the Grand Rapids Griffins signed a five-year affiliation agreement with the Detroit Red Wings last January, officials at DeVos Children’s Hospital had no idea that more than a hundred of their young patients would be making trips to Joe Louis Arena this season to watch the defending Stanley Cup champions from a luxury box.

In fact, hospital executives couldn’t have dreamed up this scenario in January because the individual responsible for making it a reality wasn’t with the franchise then. He didn’t even live in Detroit then. Heck, he didn’t even live in this country then.

Yet, next week Thursday, 10 DeVos patients and a few chaperones will find themselves high above the Hockeytown ice in suite No. 9 watching the Wings battle the Boston Bruins and rooting for their newest hero, Curtis Joseph.

Joseph is the club’s starting goaltender, having replaced Dominik Hasek this past summer when the Czech netminder retired after winning the Cup in June. But Joseph is more than a stellar goalie who proudly wears his nickname of Cujo on a mask that features a famous St. Bernard alongside an equally celebrated winged-wheel.

He also is a husband, a father of four, and a recognized humanitarian.

Three seasons ago, the National Hockey League gave Joseph the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for the charitable work he and his wife had done for years through a program they established in Edmonton called Cujo’s Kids. He was in Toronto when he won the award for bringing sick kids from local children’s hospitals to watch Maple Leafs games from suites at the old Garden and then the new Air Canada Centre. He also bought them refreshments at the games and signed souvenirs for the kids.

And late last August Joseph volunteered to extend his effort here.

“Nancy and I are fortunate to have four healthy, vibrant children, and as a professional athlete, I feel privileged to be able to give back to the community through a program called Cujo’s Kids,” wrote Joseph in a letter to Carleen Crawford, strategic program manager at DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“This program provides children from local children’s hospitals the opportunity to come to Joe Louis Arena to watch the Detroit Red Wings in action from the privacy of a suite I have purchased and dedicated to Cujo’s Kids. At this time, I would like to personally invite your hospital to be a part of the Cujo’s Kids program for the 2002-2003 NHL season,” he wrote in the letter dated Aug. 29.

“He is just wonderful,” Crawford said of Joseph.

Red Wings Community Relations Manager Anne Marie Krappmann said that one of the first things Joseph did when he arrived in Detroit was to let her know that he wanted to get Cujo’s Kids up and running at the Joe.

“We talked about the program a little bit and he said, ‘I’d like to do it for all the children’s hospitals in Michigan.’ I did a little research and found that there were three in the state,” she said. “When he came back to town and we went over it he said, ‘Those are the three I’d like to extend the invitation to take part in the program.’”

When the Business Journal spoke with Crawford, she said Jodi Bauers, manager of the DeVos Childlife program, was putting the final touches on the program with Krappmann and getting all the game dates set.

But Crawford said the hospital already knows that its second trip to Hockeytown will be on Dec. 8 for a game against the St. Louis Blues, with eight more coming between then and the end of March. A dozen kids and adults will attend each game and each family chosen can have up to four suite tickets.

“We were just thrilled to death — very, very excited about this. We just think it’s wonderful for the kids here. I’m impressed with his program already,” said Crawford. “He has a real commitment to children’s hospitals.”

Joseph will be bringing young patients to the Joe from Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, where the three children’s hospitals are located. The DeVos facility is the youngest of the trio, established in 1993 through a major financial contribution from Helen and Richard DeVos. With 208 beds, the hospital averages over 7,600 inpatient stays each year, has one of only two poison control centers in Michigan, and is part of the Spectrum Health system.

So how did Joseph become Cujo? It was former St. Louis teammate Robert Dirk who gave Joseph his alter ego. Cujo contains the first two letters of his first and last name, Curtis Joseph, and was also the name of the rabid dog in the 1981 Stephen King book.

But the only thing rabid about the Wings’ Cujo, a relatively quiet man, is his concern for sick kids. Joseph reportedly will shell out $375,000 to lease the suite at the Joe for the next three years. He will spend about another $50,000 on food and drink for his kids over those 123 regular season home games. Plus, he paid for the box, one of the arena’s larger suites, to be renovated for wheelchairs and redecorated in a décor that should appeal to the kids.

None of those costs were built into Joseph’s three-year contract with the Wings. So he will pay those expenses personally.

“Throughout my NHL career, I have been extremely fortunate to come in contact with some tremendous individuals involved with children’s hospitals,” he wrote to Crawford. “I look forward to working with you and your hospital throughout the upcoming season.”           

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