LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – October 16, 1954, marked the first WHAS Crusade for Children.

During that telethon, they raised $156,000 that year and started a tradition that would help Kentuckiana children for decades to come.

In its 64 years, the Crusade has funded dreams, changed lives and made a lasting impact on the Kentuckiana community – even capturing the hearts of some celebrities.

The real stars are the hundreds of men and women who volunteer their time year after year. People like John Bowman, the Crusade’s first coordinator. This year marked his 40th year with the Crusade.

"I started with Pleasure Ridge Park in 1977. I've been associated with the Crusade since then,” he said.

Bowman is now the district chief of PRP fire, but the department's history goes back even further than his.

In 1956, PRP brought in the first fire department donation for the Crusade, $400 – a donation that would grow tremendously year after year.

"Finding out what the Crusade was about was totally awesome to me. We'd come downtown, collect, come over to the studio watch opening and see the special needs children they'd be up there on stage with Jim Walton and Phyllis Knight. From that point on I was just hung up on it – been that way ever since," Bowman said.

Anyone who has picked up a phone to pledge a donation to the Crusade has likely talked to Theresa Fleischer. She's been working the call center for 39 years.

“It's just amazing all of the people that are committed to the Crusade every year," she said.

Fleischer coordinates all of the volunteer telephone operators for the Crusade.

"When I was young and growing up my next door neighbor had cerebral palsy and watching and seeing how the Crusade benefitted her – it was just something that stuck with me from a very young age and knowing how families are impacted and knowing how families are helped by the Crusade, that's what keeps me coming back,” she said.

Of the many proud traditions at WHAS, nothing compares to the WHAS Crusade for Children. In its 64 years, it has touched millions of young lives.

Something that wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of our community, opening their hearts and pocketbooks to give their money and time.

"It makes your heart swell. It really does, knowing that you've had just a small part in helping with this great telethon that raises money for so many different children in our area at it makes you proud to be a part of it."