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How a Mom Lost a Daughter to Cancer, Became an Inventor, and Gave Back

Read Time: 4 minutes

Jorli Perine and her late mother, LaDorna Eichenberg

When LaDorna Eichenberg lost her youngest daughter, 20-year-old Terri Perine, to bone cancer in 1973, it was devastating.

After Terri’s death, LaDorna and husband Bob combined their talents and life savings to invent the Ellison Letter Cutting Machine. A cross between a cookie cutter and a paper cutter, this machine allowed school teachers to easily cut out numbers, letters, and shapes.

As the pair enjoyed success, they started the Eichenberg-Larson Charitable Foundation in 1991. Over two decades, the foundation donated $2.43 million—including a planned gift in LaDorna’s will—to ensure fewer families shared the pain of losing a loved one.

LaDorna passed away in 2021 at 97, but her compassion lives on in her eldest daughter, Jorli Perine, who now runs the foundation. We asked Jorli about her mom’s remarkable story and why her family supports a future without cancer.

Left: Terri Perine, LaDorna’s youngest daughter who passed away from bone cancer in 1973. Right: LaDorna and Terri at Brigham Young University
Left: Terri Perine, LaDorna’s youngest daughter who passed away from bone cancer in 1973. Right: LaDorna and Terri at Brigham Young University

How, and why, did your mother start a charitable foundation?

My mom was a very compassionate person and a very hard worker. When World War II broke out, she worked in a factory with a huge die-cutter, stamping out pieces of metal for airplane wings. Later, she went to art school in Los Angeles and then, after her family was raised, she earned a teaching degree from Brigham Young University (BYU).

While working in education, she noticed that many teachers had big blisters on their fingers from cutting out, say, 30 letters, numbers, and Santa Clauses at a time. She told Bob, "Someone ought to invent a cross between a cookie cutter and a paper cutter." Bob was a West Point engineering graduate, so he said, "Oh, that sounds easy."

So, they blended their talents to invent a little hand-press, die-cutting machine for teachers. They invested their savings—a few thousand dollars—into the business. They drove around in a beat-up Toyota station wagon, taking the machine to different schools, and teachers loved it and started buying it right away. LaDorna and Bob thought it would be a little mom-and-pop business for their old age. It turned out, within two or three years, they began making millions of dollars. Every school district wanted the machine.

With the success of their business, my mom was grateful and happy that she had more than enough to help people in need.

How did your mother learn about Huntsman Cancer Institute?

My little sister, Terri, died of Ewing sarcoma in 1973 when they didn’t have the treatments they do now. After my mom watched Terri go through cancer, she felt that she didn’t want anyone else to go through such a tragedy. She wanted to help advance a cure for it.

My mom met Jon Huntsman through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and heard about Huntsman Cancer Institute when it was being built. She and Bob took a tour and she just fell in love with what Jon was doing and how he tried to improve conditions for all cancer patients. At this time, she began donating, and then she asked Jon if some of her money could go to Ewing sarcoma research.

How did your sister’s death affect your family?

Terri was a straight-A student and had a tennis scholarship to BYU. She was just this all-around accomplished, bright, talented, and compassionate person. She was 19 or 20 when diagnosed with cancer, and she died at 20. It was scarring for me and devastating for my mom. One can never forget the loss of a child and the sadness of the experience stayed with us always.

How does research give hope to families like yours that have experienced cancer?

We began donating so that patients like Terri would have more treatment options in the future—and today, they do. It’s very satisfying knowing that science is marching forward. I have hope that even if researchers don’t find a cure, they can find ways to slow sarcoma down and make life more livable for patients. We believe that hope is a good principle to live by.

Why do you continue to give to Huntsman Cancer Institute? Why should others?

Alleviating the suffering of others is a family goal and one that brings fulfillment and blessings. Living simply and sharing excess is a principle that we should all embrace.

Learn more about how to make a legacy gift to Huntsman Cancer Foundation

Cancer touches all of us.