Gift of sight

For nearly 20 years, Glendale ophthalmologist Dr. Jerold E. Beeve and his wife, Dorothy, have made annual trips to Fiji to provide eye and health care to Fijians suffering from various eye ailments and diseases. On May 7, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations recognized the Beeves for their dedication, awarding the couple the Ellis Island Medals of Honor during a festive event on the island that has witnessed more than 12 million immigrants in its history.

The award, recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, is given to 100 individuals each year in May, recognizing those people that demonstrate the richness and diversity of American life, according to the coalition's website. Past medalists include six presidents and Nobel Prize winners.

The Beeves said they are proud to be a part of the unique list of recipients and couldn't be happier that they received the award as a couple — a rare feat.

"The reward is the most electrifying thing anybody can have," said Dorothy Beeve, a registered nurse. "The celebration left us in awe."

The two-day banquet included all branches of U.S. Armed Forces, native dancers, a gala dinner, the award ceremony and a fireworks display that illuminated the Statue of Liberty.

The Beeves, who live in La Cañada Flintridge, received the award because of the longstanding work they have done with their nonprofit corporation, The Beeve Foundation. The organization began in 1989 when the couple was celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in Turtle Island, Fiji. During their vacation, the Beeves felt they developed a strong connection with Fijians and noticed that many natives did not have any sort of proper eye care at all. Jerold Beeve wanted to make a change.

"After meeting [Fijians] in their villages, we decided that we'd be able to go back and do surgery and pass out glasses," Jerold Beeve said. "Two years later, we went back to Turtle Island and started with five patients. Last year on our 19th mission trip, we saw almost 200 major procedures."

The Beeves and about 20 volunteers make their annual trip every February to offer eye support for Fijians in need. The team operates from Savusavu Hospital on the Island of Vanua Levu for eight days.

Throughout the years, the foundation has performed vision testing for 25,213 children and adults, dispensed more than 23,360 pairs of glasses and successfully completed more than 2,000 procedures ranging anywhere from cataract surgeries to corneal transplants.

The Beeves, who met while earning their medical degrees at Pacific Union College and got married in 1964, have helped treat more than 3% of the entire Fiji population, and they don't intend to stop anytime soon.

"We're giving back to humanity what we have been so privileged to have," Dorothy Beeve said.

"It's impossible for us to treat everybody in Fiji," Jerold Beeve said. "It's almost like resurrecting them from the dead with these surgeries. Otherwise, they would not be treated."

Jerold and Dorothy Beeve said there are no plans for the foundation to end anytime soon and that their sons, Gregory and Scott, both in the medical profession, plan to carry out their parents' mission in the future.

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