Friday, April 7, 2006

Hailey couple work hard, give back

Humanitarian Award to be presented Saturday

Express Staff Writer

Kris and Rob Cronin share a moment at the 2006 Share Your Heart Ball, an event they started in 2003. Photo by Willy Cook

This week, Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center concludes its annual Season of Nonviolence by honoring Wood River Valley residents.

Kris and Rob Cronin will be given the Ann and Doug Christensen Humanitarian Award at a luncheon, Saturday, April 8 in the Sun Valley Lodge Dining Room.

Their stats are impressive: They moved to Hailey in 1999 and bought The Red Elephant Saloon with friend and fellow New Yorker Brendan Dennehy; threw a successful fundraiser for the then little known Camp Rainbow Gold and later that year joined the camp's board.

In 2000, they worked as counselors at the camp, which hosts, free, as many as 75 Idaho children diagnosed with cancer. They were married in 2001 and the following summer opened Hailey's first sushi restaurant, Zou 75.

In 2002, Rob became Camp Rainbow Gold's assistant director. The next three years he was the director, and this summer will share the duties with Boisean and fellow restaurant owner Ted Challenger.

In 2003, the Cronins started the hugely successful Share Your Heart Ball in Sun Valley, which splits its proceeds between Camp Rainbow Gold and Idaho's Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Held every year since in March, the ball made approximately $625,000 for the organizations to share.

"We wouldn't be here without the Cronins. It's their energy and the love they have," said Dave McClusky, a general surgeon in Twin Falls who founded the American Cancer Society's Camp Rainbow Gold in 1982.

In fact, love is what makes everything the Cronins do work. They are a vital and hard-to say-no-to team.

"What we're working hard on besides all our missions is being together," Rob said. They are a deeply committed couple, who regularly attends mass on Monday evenings at St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey.

"We're strong in our faith," Kris said. "It's pretty much what sustains us and we've developed a really close knit group there that we adore. It's really nice to be recognized by the religious community."

Both Kris and Rob own traumas inform the path their life has taken. Rob is a survivor of tongue cancer and Kris, who was nearly killed in a roller coaster accident when she was a child, cared for her grandfather for a year before he died of cancer. They reconnected in New York City shortly after Rob's recovery and Kris' grandfather's death.

"I believe God has a plan for you. Your life is a map. Everyone's is different and that's what makes us unique," Rob said. "I don't regret getting cancer. It changed my life."

A self-professed recovering "player," Rob worked for many years opening high profile clubs around the world such as Planet Hollywood, Motown Café and Fashion Café. During his first foray in the valley, he worked for Bruce Willis opening both the Dynamite Lounge and The Mint. Kris was the director of marketing for Hugo Boss, USA.

Times have changed.

Now they use their far-reaching resources and contacts from their high rolling New York days to aid their causes.

In 2005, they sold The Red Elephant and bought Viva Taqueria, also in Hailey. Rob is also a realtor and they manage investment properties.

In 2003, they received the (Idaho) Governor's Star Award. Last year, they were honored with the American Cancer Society's Hope Award and were named Volunteers of the Year by the Hailey Chamber of Commerce.

"We share this," Rob continued. "The charity work eats up a lot of our personal time but it's an honor. We didn't know that it would be like this but it's a great blessing."

Death is part of their lives. Inevitably, they are well acquainted with a half dozen people who die each year from cancer. Most of them are children, former campers with whom they became close.

"I'm always dealing with my own mortality," Rob said. "The only gift cancer gives you is time. You can plan and say goodbye."

"Even if we talk 15 times a day, we always say I love you when we say goodbye," Kris said. "The kids and what they go through strengthens us, too. I've never met a kid with cancer who is afraid of dying. They're more worried about their families."

Astute, aware and philosophical, the Cronins seem to be everywhere, holding grieving parents' hands, befriending siblings, giving advice and urging others to help.

"Kris does this because she's has such a big heart," Rob said.

"Thanks, honey," Kris said quietly before adding, "It's all about the desire to help. I always tried to get involved to get people to give a little. We're blessed that people take us into their lives."

They admit to being flattered each time they're recognized for their work but mostly they hope they inspire others to do more also.

"The best way is just be nice to people," Rob said. "The most important commandment is treat others as you would want others to treat you."

Rob likes to repeat a quote offered to him by Camp Rainbow Gold counselor and retired pediatrician Dr. Doris Tunney, who donated $25,000 to start the new Camp Rainbow Gold College Scholarship Fund. Her husband used to say, "The measure of a man is how he treats every man."

These are words the Cronins live by.

"It's a really easy free way to make a difference," Rob said.

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