The Stefanski family in 2018 at The Social, a benefit for patient and family support services at Taussig Cancer Institute. From left are Brad, Ashley, Marc, Melissa, Alex and Kyle Stefanski. | Photo: Stephen Travarca

Third Federal Savings & Loan Chairman and CEO Marc Stefanski and his family have raised more than $1.2 million for patient and family support services at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute. Their nonprofit organization Rhonda’s Kiss honors the memory of Rhonda Stefanski, Marc’s wife and the mother of their five children. She died of pancreatic cancer in 2014.

Why focus on support services for patients and families?

Rhonda spent her last days at Cleveland Clinic. In terms of care and support, the experience was as good as we could have hoped for during her short fight with cancer. It was just three months from her diagnosis to when she passed away.

As a family, we decided to raise money in Rhonda’s honor to help patients with cancer maintain their dignity.

Cancer treatment is very expensive. But you still have to pay for transportation to and from appointments, utility bills and the mortgage or rent. Not everyone is blessed to be able to afford those different things.

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing. But real life doesn’t stop, either.

Exactly. If you’re focused on cancer treatment and you skip work or lose your job, there’s no lunch money for the children, and you can’t pay the phone bill. It goes on and on.

A few years ago, we helped a family whose young son was going through chemo. They were making a lot of sacrifices, and they needed a refrigerator and a stove. They couldn’t cook a meal. Through Rhonda’s Kiss, Cleveland Clinic was able to get them the appliances they needed.

How do you gauge the success of these efforts?

Do you know the starfish story?1 Thousands of starfish washed up on a beach, and a boy was throwing them back in the water, one at a time. A man came up and said, “It can’t make a difference.” The boy picked up another starfish. “It’ll make a difference to this one,” he said, and threw it back in the water.

Can we make a difference for everyone? Probably not. But if we can take a bit of worry off someone’s shoulders and ease their burden, it’s worth it.

Does the same mindset apply to your business?

Absolutely. At Third Federal, one of the values that form the basis of our culture is love. Not romantic love, but love in the sense of genuine concern for others.

It’s why we didn’t get caught up in the mortgage crisis. When we saw some of the crazy financial products that others were offering, we said, “If the economy shifts, how would customers pay us back?” It saved us from the crisis.

My parents were great role models. They were dedicated to each other, their family, their community and, of course, to Third Federal.2

A lot of starfish are still on that proverbial beach. What comes next?

We don’t have grandiose plans to change the world. If we can help people through a difficult time, it’s very satisfying. The hope is that other people will see the value in that.

We should continue to invest in research because it will lead to life-changing discoveries in the future.

At the same time, people here and now need our help, too. When we provide support services for patients and families, the results are tangible and immediate. It makes a big difference, one person at a time.3