American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (1958-1975)
This humble red brick building on Massachusetts once housed the largest Arab American charity in the United States. Staffed by Michael Tamer and LaVonne Rashid, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities was the fundraising arm for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis. It became the largest Arab American charitable organization in the United States. The reason why the office was located in Indianapolis was because Lebanese performer and actor Danny Thomas handpicked Tamer, an Indianapolis resident, to run the campaign. “I must thank God that along came Mike Tamer,” said Thomas, “because without his leadership, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would have been just a dream.”
In 1955, Michael Tamer received a medal from the Syrian government. Shortly before he died, Lebanon presented him with the Legion of Honor award at the Presidential palace in Beirut.
Backstory and Context
Michael Tamer was born in Appalachia, Virginia, in 1904, but he moved to Indianapolis as a young man in the 1920s. In 1926, his marriage at St. Francis DeSales Church to another Syrian American, Marie Kurker, was featured in the Indianapolis News society pages. In the 1930s, he became leader of the Syrian So-Fra (Sorority-Fraternity) Club, which brought Arab Americans together not only for socializing but also to raise money for charitable causes. Tamer quickly developed a reputation as someone who was good at getting things done. During World War II, Tamer led Arab Indianapolis’ effort to buy war bonds and support Indianapolis’ Arab American men and women in uniform. The various Syrian clubs that had been holding dances and raising money for charity came together at this time to form the Associated Syrian Lebanon Club of Indianapolis. Tamer, whose brother Mitchell died in the war, served as president.
In 1944, he was also elected president of the Syrian American Brotherhood. During the war years, its clubhouse on Riverside Park became a venue for war bonds sales. Visitors were offered free buffets, dancing, and singing, and then expected to generously support the war effort. At one event alone, he sold $210,000 in bonds. Members of the military, especially from Fort Benjamin Harrison and Camp Atterbury, were also feted during New Year’s and other celebrations at the clubhouse.
Mike Tamer gained a national reputation as a nonprofit leader and a fundraiser, and in 1955, he was elected president of the National Association of Federations of Syrian Lebanese Clubs during a meeting at French Lick. One of his first official duties was leading 325 members of the association as they left for a month-long convention in Syria and Lebanon. During his time in Syria, Prime Minister Sabri al-Assaly and Foreign Affairs Minister Khaled al-Azm awarded him Syria’s medal of merit.
Two years later, Danny Thomas tapped Michael Tamer to become national executive director of the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the philanthropic organization that funded St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which broke ground in 1958. Tamer set up a modest office at 611 Massachusetts Avenue. At first, he worked for free. Aided by LaVonne Rashid, Tamer hit the road, helping ten regional directors establish 142 chapters in 35 states. It was the largest Arab American philanthropic organization of its time. Tamer and Rashid became paid employees of ALSAC and its modest office remained in Indianapolis until 1975, the year after Tamer’s death.
Once run by two paid staffers, the organization has grown so large that Tamer would be unlikely to recognize it. As of 2022, it employs 1,300 people and generates a total of $1.74 billion in revenue.
Curtis IV, Edward E.. Michael Tamer and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Arab Indianapolis. January 1st 2021. Accessed February 9th 2022. https://arabindianapolis.com/michael-tamer-and-st-judes-hospital/.
Indianapolis Star, Aug. 8, 1955, 6.