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SOUTH BEND — Betty White was one of those famous people who it seemed that everybody knew.
Television fans of a certain age — I'm of that age — first saw her in the 1970s on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." White returned to the small screen where she co-starred on "The Golden Girls" in the 1980s and early '90s.
Older fans might remember her from back in the earliest days of television when she was host of her own variety show. And younger fans, the age of my children, might know her from "Saturday Night Live" or as a star of the sitcom "Hot In Cleveland."
It's cliche, but accurate, to say that Betty White is as close to being universally loved as a person could ever hope to be in our divided world. So when she died on New Year's Eve, she received the kind of praise and honor that goes to someone who spent all or part of eight decades bringing joy to people.
White was an advocate for many causes, but she was best known for her work on animal welfare issues.
And so as Jan. 17, the day that would have been White's 100th birthday approached, fans decided that encouraging people to make a donation to animal shelters would be a great way to honor the actress.
People across the nation and here in Michiana answered the call.
The Greater Los Angeles Zoo received $70,000 in donations. White had served as a member of that zoo's board of directors since the zoo was founded in 1966.
And while local shelters didn't raise that much, representatives of several agencies said they saw a jump in cash and in-kind donations over the last week.
"I don't have an exact amount, but as of (Wednesday) night, we had close to $7,000 that was donated in honor of her birthday," said Nancy Whiteman, vice-president of Pet Refuge, which is located in South Bend. "That is above and beyond any donations that we have received that were not specified."
Robin Lydic, animal care director of the Humane Society of Southwest Michigan, said that her organization received more than $700 and more than 300 pounds of food donated in honor of White's birthday by Wednesday.
"And we are still getting donations," she added.
Lydic said that the donations reveal the depth of White's influence across generations.
"I was surprised by the amount of young people who made donations," Lydic said.
Rob LaRoy, executive director of the Humane Society of Elkhart County, said the agency had received more than $9,000 in donations by the middle of last week.
"People love animals in our community and we are very fortunate that they blessed us with a shelter and the funds to do the work we do," LaRoy said.
"But also at the same time, people just loved Betty White and wanted to be able to remember her and recognize her on what would have been her 100th birthday."
LaRoy said that he spoke to many people who made donations in remembrance of White who were fans and had been looking forward to her turning 100.
And although she passed away before being able to celebrate her centennial, the challenge gave them a chance to support her favorite cause and do something that was fun.
Genny Brown, executive director of the Humane Society of St. Joseph County, said that her organization raised more than $9,000, in addition to receiving "plenty" of in-kind donations of items, including blankets, towels, dog and cat food, toys and cat litter.
Each of these leaders said that the donations will have a big impact on the operations of their shelters.
"The funds will go back to caring for the shelter animals," Brown said. "We have about 300 animals at the shelter right now, and that money will go toward food and medical care, as well as the cost keeping the utilities going."
LaRoy said that it cost about $3,500 a day to operate the Elkhart shelter, and the influx of cash came during a time when the agency normally receives about $100 a day in donations.
"We're talking about providing shelter, food, water and all of the medications for the animals," LaRoy said. "So yeah, this does make a difference. Absolutely."
Whiteman agreed that it takes a lot to properly care for the dogs and cats sheltered at the facility.
"Every animal that comes in has to be spayed or neutered," Whiteman said. "They need medication and some need surgery."
In addition, every adopted pet is microchipped.
That means that every donation is important, she said.
Perhaps the focus on the issue of animal welfare prompted by White's death will convince some people to adopt a dog or cat.
"Because of her influence," Whiteman said, "I can certainly say that I hope so."
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Betty White Challenge results in donation boost to Michiana shelters