The Angel Factory

What started as a simple gift for a friend became a nonprofit that raised nearly a million dollars for cancer research.

By Bobbie Burnett, Annapolis, Maryland

As appeared in

My garage is overflowing with cardboard boxes. Stacks of storage containers line my spare bedroom and foam packing pellets are scattered all over the basement.

Am I moving? No. But I’ve been moved. By angels.

Thirty years ago, my husband, Jerry, an electrical engineer, got a job in Annapolis. We bought a house here and one of the first people I met was Susie—a bright, energetic, witty mom of three. We belonged to the same women’s organization. Spending time with Susie, I forgot I was new in town. She made me feel so at home.

But our carefree days were cut short. Just before Christmas, 1982, Susie was diagnosed with leukemia. She started chemotherapy treatments right away at Johns Hopkins oncology center in Baltimore. I called her often, wrote her little get-well cards and visited her in the hospital. Then another setback: Her husband was laid off. “I’m so worried about all the medical bills piling up,” she confided during one visit. “Can you please pray for us?”

So I did. Every day. But I wanted to do more. Friends of ours shuttled her kids to after-school activities, others cooked meals and baked desserts.

Now, as Jerry can attest, I’m no cook. I am an artist, though. One night, lying in bed, I tossed and turned. Lord, help me use my art to help Susie. My mind drifted to a stained-glass class I’d taken a while back. I usually worked with oil paints, but there was something about the way sunlight shimmered through the glass that felt peaceful, almost healing. What else was peaceful and healing?

Angels.

The next morning I got right to work. I used an aqua shade of glass (Susie’s favorite color) for the body and a silvery pearl glass for the wings. It was a long, painstaking process—lining up the pattern, cutting the glass, foiling the sides. I worked a little bit at a time. Susie’s angel stood just over a foot tall and I topped her off with a golden halo and added a holder for a votive candle.

A couple of days before Christmas, I brought the angel to Susie’s hospital room. “I made this for you,” I said.

“Oh, Bobbie!” Susie gasped. “I love it! Put her on the table over there so I can see her all the time.”

Whenever I’d visit Susie, she’d tell me how much she loved the angel. I thought she was just being sweet. One afternoon, though, she mentioned that someone had asked her where they could buy one. “I told them you made it for me,” she said. “And they asked me where you sell them. You really ought to make more of these.”

More? I loved making the angel—but it had taken me almost 20 hours. There was no way I’d have the time to make more and keep up with my other artwork. I was about to tell Susie it was impossible when it hit me: I’d round up the folks who asked her about the angel and teach them how to make one too. Then we could sell them and give the money to Susie and her family to help with her medical expenses.

I invited about a dozen women—mostly Susie’s friends and family—over to my house. Right there in my living room, we cut shapes from sheet glass and wrapped the edges in foil. Even Jerry got in on the act, helping us solder the pieces together. I told Susie about our stained-glass operation. She was thrilled! Within a few months we presented her family with a check for two hundred dollars. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Word of mouth spread…fast. Soon we had 30 volunteers and an assembly line that outgrew our living room. Jerry and I cleared the clutter out of our basement and set up shop down there. “It really looks like an angel factory!” Jerry said, laughing, when he saw all of us at work.

A year after we started making angels we’d raised more than a thousand dollars for Susie and her family. Despite aggressive treatment, her health grew worse. On December 15, 1983, Susie died.

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Tonight we were deeply touched by two very close and wonderful friends who delivered an angel to our doorstep for my husband, Joe, who is fighting CLL. There are no words to describe this perfect gift and the love we felt upon receipt of it. We feel the love behind this beautiful creation and the hope it brings. Thank you to all who were involved in its making and for keeping this most wonderful and worthwhile effort ongoing. Words cannot express how all of us felt when she was opened and viewed for the first time - we all had tears in our eyes. Bless the hands that made this angel and bless the hearts it touches. We are so
thankful. Bobbie Burnett, you are one special lady who has
surely done her share to make a difference. In 1996 I wrote a quote that goes like this . . .
"To make a difference, makes all the difference;
To those who know they can, and have the desire to do so."
This certainly does describe Bobbie Burnett and the volunteers known as the Caring Collection Inc.. Thank you
Marilyn J. Rollo

Dear Mrs Burnett:
This note is very difficult for me to write. I am a cancer survior (1987) and then I met my soul mate and five years after we met he developed bladder cancer in 2009. He is still fighting the disease. After one visit to his urologist in 2010 in CA., we were told that they had got rid of his cancer. When we arrived home that day I got a phone call from my younger sister (45 years old) to inform me that she had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Fortunately I was able to fly home and be with her for her last few weeks before she passed on,and within six months of her passing my father died. We are now coming up to my sister's 2nd. anniverisary of her passing. We have just moved back from CA to Tampa, Florida where my soul mate is undergoing treatment at the Moffitt Cancer center.
I would appreciate it if we could get a price list from you as I would like to purchase two angels - one for my mother and one for my sole mate.

Please keep up the good work

Kindest regards, Vanda Harmer

17736 Long Ridge Rd.
Tampa, FL 33647

Hi Vanda. The URL for the web site for Ms. Burnett's organization is http://www.caringcollection.org/. You can find info about ordering angels there.
Hi everyone. The URL for the web site for Ms. Burnett's organization is http://www.caringcollection.org/. You can find info about ordering angels there.

I would like to purchase an Angel for my son finacee mother. My son fiancee was killed in a bad car accident. Christine Mother and I are collecting Angels. I would love to have one of yours.

Just saw you on NBC. I was really touched. I never believed in angels. I was hospitalized last year and was told I have a rare autoimmune disease. I also,have a cyst on my liver, kidney and spine. One night she came to me, my angel. I opened my eyes and she was there. She gave me the strength to go on. I will never forget her, and how beautiful she was. She has given me hope every day. It has been a long year. I take each day with my angel guiding me and giving me the strength that I need. Please let me know how I can purchase her from you.
Thank you
God Bless,
Marie Bernier

Mrs. Burnett:
I would like to buy an angel for my daughter, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I have read the Guidepost article and saw the item on msnbc news, but I haven't found any way to purchase an angel.

Mildred Kirkwood
3550 Pacific Ave., Apt. 901
Livermore, CA 94550-4888
phone 925-371-1951

Many blessings... i was very inspired by your story. Moreso now that i too am passing through a similar situation with my husband. I had to leave my house, my children adn my job in Puerto /Rico to come to Georgia to get treatment for my husband. He was diagnosed with adrenal cortical carcinoma at stage 4. It is rare form of cancer. And it has not been easy. Only because of our faith have we been able to stick it through and through GOD's provision. So i thank you for what you are doing to help others!!

Ms. Burnett:
I just now finished reading your article in Guideposts. I believe in and collect angels and like your friend Susie have cancer, a very rare cancer called Carcinoid it is a neuroendocrine tumors and as of now there is no cure for it. Our Motto is "when you hear hoofprints think of Zebras than horses", as there are so many, many different side effects that it is often misdiagnoised as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome or crohn's disease. If you would kindly send me your address and price list, I would like to order one, another thing we have in common...I used to own a manf. plant and retail store...I made candles...so I would love one that held a candle. I would like to send you information and a pin as this is the first year that many states honored Nov. 10th Neuroendocrine Day. I was diagnoised in 8/03 my tumor was located in the terminal ileum so I have no right colon, 16" of small intestine gone and 10 lymph nodes. I now have 3 tumors in my liver and a very small mass has showed up on my right kidney. I have been gone for Immunology/Hematology consult in Aurora, CO the first of this month and will go back Dec. 7th. I just wanted to share with you this very rare cancer and let you know a bit about it and also the things we have in common.
Diana Daley
97 S. Central Ave.
Grant, NE 69140

Please excuse the mispelling, it is way past my bed time. I just couldn't wait until tomorrow to write you.