Todd Sommer met Jo-Ann Ballanco in college in 1974. It didn’t take long for Todd, and everyone in their lives, to know he’d marry Jo-Ann. Todd and Jo-Ann had two daughters, whom Jo-Ann stayed at home to raise while Todd pursued an engineering career. After the family settled in Dalton, Ohio, Jo-Ann was extremely involved in the community. She taught Sunday school, sang in the choir and served on many committees at St. Agnes Church in Orrville. She served on the Dalton school board, was a room mother and organized a private committee that raised $1.25 million for a Dalton High School auditorium.
Although Jo-Ann was physically active and health conscious, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2010. Jo-Ann and her care team, led by Dr. James Schmotzer, fought the disease aggressively. Todd and Jo-Ann evaluated their bucket list, accelerating the schedule so they could do as much as possible together. Jo-Ann went on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer with her daughters to help raise money for the Stefanie Spielman Foundation. Todd and Jo-Ann saw Ohio State play in the Sugar Bowl, caught some shows in Las Vegas and took several road trips in their RV.
In early March 2011, Jo-Ann began experiencing pain in her right lung. Testing revealed blood clots and, from that point, they knew it was a losing battle. The Aultman care team helped Todd arrange for a bed, oxygen, respiratory and IV treatments, and the other things he needed to care for her at home. Todd arranged for the whole family to be together for Easter. Jo-Ann held private conversations with everyone – which she really cherished – and passed away peacefully a few days later.
Todd maintained a CaringBridge website to keep family and friends informed throughout Jo-Ann’s battle. He ended his last entry with a hymn refrain that he prayed for Jo-Ann many times. “May the choir of angels come to greet you; may they speed you to paradise. May the Lord enfold you with His mercy; may you find everlasting life.”
Todd reached out to Lisa Zellers, development officer at The Aultman Foundation, in July 2014. Through his involvement on the Aultman Health Foundation board of directors, he learned about the upcoming cancer center renovations and wanted to be involved. He remembered how spread out various departments were, how some areas were getting pretty dingy and he envisioned how these changes would really benefit future patients. “The treatment she received was great, and the caregivers were all wonderful,” Todd said. “But it was evident that things could be improved for patients and their families.”
Todd wanted to establish a tribute fund in Jo-Ann’s name to benefit the cancer center renovations. “Having an up-to-date facility will also help to attract the best physicians,” Todd explained. “These changes will impact cancer care in our community for years to come.” Jo-Ann always thought of others first, even throughout her battle with cancer. “I think the Jo-Ann Ballanco-Sommer Tribute Fund is a way that, through her death, she can continue to help others – and we will be there right beside her,” Todd said. “Our family is excited to be a part of it, and we know that countless people will be helped as a result. She was such a compassionate person; she was loved at some level by so many people. I know the Aultman Cancer Center will touch thousands in the same way. They will be uplifted, strengthened, given hope. Some will be healed but, in all cases, they will receive truly compassionate care.”