Port Richmond and the surrounding Philadelphia area lost one of its great advocates for finding a cure for breast cancer last week.
Mary Louise Leuters, 84, passed away on Monday, Oct. 1, from pancreatic cancer.
She leaves behind her husband, Gerald, of more than 60 years, two children, five grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, two sisters and a legacy that will live on for years.
Mary Louise Leuters beat breast cancer.
She also founded the Ladies of Port Richmond, a nonprofit that raised more than $700,000 since its inception nearly 15 years ago.
More affectionately known as Mary Lou, she spent countless hours working at Our Lady Help of Christians and started a Saint Mother Pauline Foundation chapter at the church.
She ran trips to everywhere from Connecticut to Canada and started a bowling league, with all proceeds going to the chapter.
And, while her tenacity to find a cure and secure resources for people battling the disease she overcame was unmatched, it was her ability to bring a community together that set her apart.
Angeline “Angel” Zamorski, 55, had known Leuters her entire life, describing her as “another mother,” and has served as treasurer of LOPR since it was founded.
“Mary Lou’s whole life was about charity work and bringing people together,” Zamorski said. “She was a very determined, hard-working person. When she wanted to do something or accomplish a task, it was full-speed ahead and she would get everybody she knew to help out.”
Zamorski recalled how her mother, Pat, Leuters and nearby neighbor, Marge, would sit around a kitchen table every day drinking coffee, “just shooting the breeze.”
The organization that has donated thousands of dollars to several area hospitals over the years came to be in a similar fashion.
“She just decided she was going to have this breast cancer foundation and do a walk so people who didn’t go to the Komen Walk could walk in the neighborhood,” Zamorski said. “It was Stock’s and coffee at her kitchen table that started it all.”
Leuters had breast cancer at 54 and 62 and was treated both times at Jefferson Hospital.
“After she beat breast cancer, she felt like she needed to do something more. She and my dad both were volunteers at Jefferson,” said daughter Patricia Wilus, 60. “And, it turned into a kitchen table conversation with her friends and out of this conversation, the Ladies of Port Richmond grew.”
One of the words people would use to describe her was “crusader,” attributable to her passion and mindset of letting nothing stop her, Wilus said.
Everything built up to an annual walk, but Leuters, along with LOPR board members and volunteers, was nonstop organizing fundraisers and events all year long, according to Wilus.
Thousands of people came out to the annual LOPR walk over the years, with more than 900 walkers registering the first year in 2005.
Businesses donated to the nonprofit over the years, from ShopRite of Aramingo to Port Richmond Pharmacy.
And, the Catholic Church was never far from her heart.
“And, of course, everything Mary Lou did was related to the Catholic Church. Every breakfast we had was at a different Catholic church. Every time Mary Lou needed something, it was the Catholic Church. Our Lady of Port Richmond school, all those kids were always supporting her.”
All the walkers, fundraisers, donations and support meant more funds for finding a cure.
From Jefferson Hospital to the former Northeastern Hospital to Nazareth Hospital, Leuters made donations to make funds available for the nonprofit’s mission, CARE (cure, awareness, research and education), according to Zamorski.
LOPR allowed her to indulge in one of her other pleasures, traveling, although only within driving distance.
“She loved going on bus trips. She wasn’t a flyer. We could never get her on a plane, and she always blamed it on my father,” Wilus said, laughing. “She loved to go to Ocean City, Maryland, they went to Lancaster, they went to Christmas shows.”
And, she loved a good gamer of 500 rummy.
“She was just a down-to-earth person and just very humble,” Wilus added. “She was selfless. Even at the end, she was always caring about how the other person was. It was always what could she do to help someone else. And, driven. Boy, when she got her mind on something, there was no stopping her.”
Her determination and altruistic nature was the backbone of Ladies of Port Richmond and have left an indelible mark on all those who met her.
“She was not only doing something for a good cause, she was bringing people together. She was making people happy. People were making new friends. When you joined Mary Lou’s organization, she had a special way of making each person feel important,” Zamorski said.
“What a great and honest and determined woman she was. She went beyond raising money for breast cancer, it was more about bringing people together for a common cause.”