On the last Saturday in July, a picturesque day punctuated by the occasional puffy, white cloud, a band of tubers set off down the river just north of Tinicum.
Tubers on the Delaware in the middle of summer is an unremarkable sight. But these particular tubers had a greater purpose. They were gathered for the Joel A. Gingras Jr. Memorial Foundation’s annual Tube Float.
The float is a fundraiser for brain tumor research in honor of the foundation’s namesake, Joel Gingras Jr., who was diagnosed with a rare, benign brain tumor in 1988. The event, however, dates back even further, to the late seventies.
As the story goes, Joel and his brother, Jonathan, were fond of jumping off of bridges into the Delaware. (We’d put a disclaimer here, but you should already know better.) Eventually, they settled for a safer way to appreciate the river: They rounded up some friends and a case of Genesee Cream Ale and drifted down the river together atop tubes.
It’s something many of us have done at least once. But this voyage, which became an annual reunion when everyone went off to college, assumed a greater significance with Joel’s diagnosis. The 1988 tube float, the first as an official fundraiser, helped cover the cost of Joel’s rehabilitation.
And when he died that October, at age 27, the float’s purpose became even greater.
Christian Gingras, Joel’s brother, believes it was his family’s salvation.
“It helped our parents, family, and friends stay close,” Christian told The Bucks County Herald. “I have friends that come to the tube float to this day, 33 years later. And Joel’s friends still come, too. Through life and kids and jobs, they all still come.”
As is tradition, the floaters this year stopped at an island on their way to Point Pleasant and toasted Joel’s memory with hot dogs and hamburgers courtesy Bucks County River Country.
Healing as the annual tube float’s been for those who were closest to Joel and his family, it’s also had an incredible impact on advancing the treatment of rare brain tumors like Joel’s. The foundation was established in 1989, the year after Joel’s death. Over the years since, it has raised more than $2.2 million for the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA), not including what this year’s float generated.
“People easily raise $1,500 each, and our top raisers can bring in more than $5,000,” Christian said of the tube float participants, who raise money through pledges. “We have a good time, and tubers know that their money is making an impact, as 100% goes to the ABTA.”
The foundation caps the float at 80 tubers. Christian told the Herald this year’s voyage sold out.
In 1995, the ABTA established the Joel A. Gingras Jr. Research Fellowship. To date, 33 fellowships have been awarded to doctors across the country.
To donate, go here.