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If Jim Lemon decided to do something, he was in 110%.
His tireless work ethic and meticulous nature helped him excel at academics, professional golf, financial advising and as a self-trained woodworker.
“He never took shortcuts,” said Kate Lemon, Jim’s wife. “If he decided to do something, he was completely dedicated to it.”
That willpower and strength of character helped Jim navigate a stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis in November 2019. For the next 21 months before his death, Jim focused on enjoying the time he had left with his loved ones, especially Kate and their young son, Maxwell.
Jim’s friends wanted to make something positive from a difficult situation. The result was a fundraising effort, lovingly named “Lemon Brothers,” that has grown to more than $1 million in donations for UW Carbone’s Innovation Fund.
“It’s been a huge help for us as we’ve been grieving,” said Kyle Pitzner, one of the Lemon Brothers. “I feel very proud of that.”
Living with purpose
Kyle and Jim were “cribmates,” essentially raised together and best friends since Jim was born. They met Chris Tierney in fifth grade, and their duo became a trio.
“We all became incredibly close,” Chris said.
Their tight-knit friendship continued through high school and attending UW-Madison. Jim, an exceptional golfer for Madison West, was recruited to the UW Men’s Golf team.
After graduating in 2001, Jim pursued professional level golf and enjoyed several years as part of PGA Canada. When he retired in 2011, he seamlessly moved into a new career back home as a financial advisor.
That also led to another major milestone in Jim’s life – meeting Kate. Her brother, Benjamin Wierwill, was the matchmaker, and Jim and Kate hit it off immediately.
The couple married in 2015 and welcomed their son, Max, in 2019. Jim also became business partners with Chris to operate their own wealth management firm, Tierney-Lemon & Associates at Merrill Lynch.
Over the years, the trio added four more friends to their close circle: Brent Conwell, James Caulkins, Charlie Burch and Josh Pelletter.
Kyle recalled a special trip they took to the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2019 as a tribute to Kyle’s late father. While it was a memorable experience for everyone, Jim was plagued by back pain.
Because Jim was such an active person, he initially thought it was a normal strain. Then his appetite decreased and he began to lose weight. That led to Jim’s cancer diagnosis, and while chemotherapy could give him time, it wouldn’t cure him.
Taking the advice of a physician, the young family focused on making the best of their time together. Jim especially focused on creating memories with Max, playing with him no matter how sick he felt. Of Jim’s many accomplishments, Kate said becoming a father was his favorite.
“Those were some of the best memories we made as a family,” Kate said.
Shortly after Jim was diagnosed, his friends created a fundraiser for cancer research to show their support.
“Jim was excited about the idea,” Kyle said. “He wanted to make sure no one else was in his shoes someday.”
Their effort started out slowly, with the friends making their own pledges and spreading the word among those who reached out to Jim and his family.
After Jim passed away, the rate of donations grew exponentially.
“I think it speaks to the type of person Jim was and how many people he touched,” Kyle said. “He was just such a great guy.”
Even more astonishing was when the fund topped $1 million, thanks to a generous matching pledge by Tom Falk, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark, and his wife, Karen. The Falks are longtime friends of the Lemons—Jim’s father, Elmer, gave Tom his first job.
“Tom is just such a terrific person,” said Betty Lemon, Jim’s mother. “I’m so thankful to him.”
These donations benefit UW Carbone’s Innovation Fund, which is focused on seed funding that advances the most promising new ideas, enhances resources available to researchers, and responds to innovative and emerging needs.
“Donors to the Innovation Fund allow UW Carbone to pursue exciting and transformative opportunities in cancer research,” said UW Carbone Director Dr. Howard Bailey.
The Lemon Brothers plan to keep their fundraising momentum going. On Sept. 30, the Jim Lemon Memorial Golf Outing will take place at Jim’s beloved Nakoma Golf Club.
These efforts have been a comfort to Kate, Betty and Jim’s sister, Jane Tereba, with whom he always shared a very close, supportive relationship.
Betty said Jim was blessed to have such strong friendships, and she’s proud of their efforts to honor her son. Kate agreed, saying being involved with fundraising promotion has given her a positive outlet for her grief.
“If no other family has to go through what we went though, that a child doesn’t have to grow up without a parent, that’s the goal,” Kate said.