Cowboy has another shootout with cancer

Neighbors support man who keeps community strong

Aug. 2, 2007

The Cowboy Cookout and Hoedown in the 3000 block of South Wentworth Avenue on July 28 was Steve Gorski's block party from the get-go. He just didn't make it to the neighborhood gathering this year.

Gorski took charge of organizing the party, from the bike parade for the kids to the country and western jam band. He made sure local firefighters would show up with a rig so the children could see it close up and planned for a Milwaukee police officer to come in a squad car so the kids could sit in the fiberglass backseat and pick up a couple of Milwaukee Brewers trading cards. He even invited the mayor to drop by.

Just days before the event, Gorski was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with leukemia. He will need two rounds of chemotherapy to prepare for a bone marrow transplant, said his wife, Jacque.

But Gorski's imprint was all over this event. So when the time came for the bike parade, Mike Papenfus, who lives across the street from the Gorskis, hopped on Steve's bike and led the neighborhood children - including Steven Jr. and Jack, the Gorskis' two young sons - down the middle of the street.

Raising funds for the fight

Papenfus said the first time he met Gorski was at last year's block party. Both are stay-at-home dads; Gorski full-time, Papenfus part-time. Papenfus, who is working on his doctorate in environmental economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is home with his two young boys two days per week.

Together, Gorski and Papenfus take their boys to the zoo, to the park and often to stop for a treat at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.

Gorski, a former marketing executive, has been home with Jack and Steven Jr. since he spent time recovering after aggressive treatment for a rare form of kidney cancer in 2005. With the help of family and friends and a support group at Gilda's Club in Shorewood, he won that battle.

As Gorski was recovering from kidney cancer, he organized an online auction to raise money for a college fund for his children and to donate to Gilda's Club. Lately he has been working on raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Both nonprofit organizations support people and their families living with cancer.

Papenfus said he has been visiting Gorski in the hospital just about every day, and they talk as if they were sitting on the front porch. Gorski, it seems, is not letting this latest diagnosis break his spirit.

"If there's anybody who can make it through something like this, my money would be on that guy," Papenfus said.

Kids send well-wishes

In the years since he was first diagnosed with cancer, Gorski has been focusing his attention on his family. His plans for the block party centered on making sure the kids all had a great time.

Wentworth Avenue resident Michelle Rhoades, who is expecting her fourth child, said there are a lot of children on the block, many younger than 5.

Rick and Sharon Champeau said the block parties - this was the third or fourth year, nobody could remember exactly - evolved from the birthday parties for children that were held every summer.

"With Steve getting sick, the kids have been putting their handprints on a banner for him," Rhoades said.

Sitting at a small picnic table in the middle of the sidewalk, Erin, Josie, Maura and Kitty Newcomb, Lucy and Sophia Peters and Lauren Champeau were working diligently on the banner with a rainbow assortment of markers.

"We're making a get-well card," Lauren said. "Everybody make big polka dots!"

Meanwhile, Rick Champeau was updating an information form used to keep track of the names and addresses of residents on the block, the names of their children, and even the names of their cats and dogs, so everyone could be invited to next year's party.

Special guests aplenty

One of the dogs responding to this year's invitation was Coulee, a yellow Labrador who lives with the Papenfus family and seems to enjoy retrieving candy thrown out by the children during bike parades.

Mayor Tom Barrett also responded, stopping by to greet neighbors and watching the children playing happily in the middle of the street.

"I'm a big fan of block parties," Barrett said. "I grew up on neighborhood block parties every summer. It's a wonderful way to get to know your neighbors."

The firefighters showed up too, and police officer Jose Arzaga cruised over from District 2 and handed out baseball cards and stickers that looked like badges.

Jacque Gorski flicked the switch on a colorful plastic contraption and a second later Coulee and the kids were romping through a sparkling cloud of soap bubbles.

On a warm summer night on South Wentworth Avenue, everything seemed to be just about perfect. Just about.

Nan Bialek can be reached at or (262) 446-6632.

At a glance

WHO: Steve Gorski of Bay View, who survived a rare form of kidney cancer, was in the middle of a fundraising effort in support of the Lance Armstrong

Foundation when he was

diagnosed with leukemia about a week ago.

WHAT: Gorski is trying to raise $60,000 for the foundation, which supports cancer research.

WHY: Those who donate $100 or more could have the

opportunity to ride with

Armstrong in the Livestrong Challenge scheduled for Oct. 12 to 14 in Austin, Texas, if Gorski can raise a minimum of $30,000 for the foundation.

HOW: Visit to donate.

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