A couple of Emmaus Homes residents were already hard at work in the pottery shop on the Marthasville campus Monday morning, decorating items that will be for sale later this month at the first Friends of Emmaus Spring Festival.
Emmaus is a nonprofit agency that provides homes and programming for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Dipping a paintbrush into a cup of white paint, Kevin, who lives in an Emmaus community home in Wentzville, spoke excitedly about a new DVD/VCR player that was recently added to the house, compliments of the Friends of Emmaus, who also have approved purchasing a new patio set.
And those are just two of the countless items the Friends have given to Emmaus residents and staff over the last 40 years to improve their lives and support their work.
Walk around the campus and visit with the residents and much of what is available to them is a result of donations or efforts of the Friends — everything from the vehicles used to transport them to activities to items like furniture for their homes to classes, like the aforementioned pottery class.
First Gift Was a Bus
It was the need for a bus to transport residents off campus for various outings and activities that brought a group of women together to form the Friends of Emmaus in 1972.
Doris Sleeman of Villa Ridge, who lived in South St. Louis at the time, remembers bringing a youth group from her church around that same time to sing for residents at Christmastime.
“We came to entertain them, but they entertained us,” she said. “We all enjoyed it so much.”
Sleeman attended the second meeting of the ladies who later became the Friends as they talked about enlisting the help of churches (mostly E&R churches which are now United Church of Christ) in the cause, and she was there on April 18, 1972, when a group of 28 women met to discuss getting a bus for the residents.
The first officers were Mrs. Kenneth L. Koch, president; Mrs. A.J. Dippel, vice president; Mrs. John G. Ruhl, treasurer; and Mrs. Robert Lindauer, secretary.
To raise money to purchase the bus, the Friends collected “box tops,” much like area schools do today, recalled Sleeman.
“There were around 100 residents here at the time, and prior to 1971 there wasn’t a lot of activity for them,” she recalled. “Those who were capable helped in the kitchen with the cooking or in the garden with planting, in the laundry, in the dairy . . .
“The most they got off campus for was to go to a dentist or doctor appointment.”
The bus opened a whole new world for Emmaus residents. They were able to make short trips to places like Camp Mo-Val in Union where they could go swimming. They were able to attend ballgames and the circus, places most people take for granted.
From the beginning the Friends had strong membership, recalled Sleeman. Over 100 people, many of them husband and wife couples, routinely attended meetings.
Annual Bazaar, Quilt Auction
The first year the Friends were established they organized a fall bazaar that included a meal and a variety of items for sale to raise funds for wish list projects and items. According to the “Emmaus Homes 100 Years,” that first bazaar was held Oct. 8, 1972.
Fifteen years later in 1987 the Friends added a major drawing card to the event in its wildly popular quilt auction, said Dennis Kramme, now director of development for the Emmaus Resident Trust Foundation and Emmaus liaison to the Friends.
“Cindy Fischer realized the bazaar was going to die off eventually if we didn’t get something new . . . ,” he recalled.
She suggested holding a quilt auction like a Baptist church she knew of and it was a hit.
“That first year we raised $550 with just two or three quilts,” said Mary Fischer, a Friends member and relative of an Emmaus resident.
Last year the quilt auction raised $20,465 from the sale of just 50 quilts. The big seller, a “Lone Star” pattern quilt created by Clara and Darryl Bockting, sold for $5,500 and was purchased by an elevator repairman who had never attended the Friends bazaar.
Most of the quilts sell for between $300 and $600, noted Betty Gildehaus, who became a Friends member with her late husband after their son went to live at the Marthasville campus.
Over the last 20-plus years the quilt auction has raised some $260,000 for the Friends.
“I think it’s one of the best-kept secrets,” Kramme remarked. “I think they go rather cheaply when you consider how much time goes into them.”
Bockting and all of the other quilters will attest to that.
This year the Bocktings have created another “Lone Star” pattern quilt, this time in hues of green (and in just four weeks time), and there already is a buzz surrounding it.
The Friends of Emmaus also create a quilt for the auction each year. Mary Ackmann of Wright City UCC puts it together each year and a number of Friends members have quilted on it.
Including proceeds from the annual quilt auction and bazaar, the Friends of Emmaus estimate they have raised around three-quarters of a million dollars — $750,000 — over the last 40 years. That includes cash donations from individuals and businesses, grants and in-kind donations.
Spring Is In
The Friends annual Fall Bazaar is being replaced by a new fundraiser, the Spring Festival, with the first event set for Sunday, May 20, from noon to 5 p.m. on the Marthasville campus.
The theme will be an “Ole Time Country Family Picnic,” and the meal (served from noon to 4 p.m.) will feature outdoor picnic food — roasted chicken, hamburgers, baked beans, German potato salad, slaw, applesauce and pie. Carryouts will be available beginning at 11 a.m.
The quilt auction will begin at 3 p.m. and continue until the last of the 50 quilts are sold. The Brehe family serves as auctioneers and has since the first quilt auction in 1987.
Among the booths with items for sale will be a residents’ craft booth.
“This is one of the highlights of our event,” said Fischer.
“Residents work all year in the pottery/recreation program that we sponsor and then they sell these items in their booth. For many years a resident has designed the Friends of Emmaus Christmas card each year that is sold in the booth. Also, a special Christmas ornament is made each year by the residents and sold.
“They are very special contributors.”
The festival also will feature homemade ice cream, silent auction, antiques, books, flea market, country cake walk, games and a children’s area. Fredbird, mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, will make an appearance at 1 p.m.
Not much about the event will be different from the fall bazaar, even from its earliest years, said Kramme.
“Mrs. Dippel used to donate all of the hot dogs we cooked because she said that was something she could do and it’s still that way today,” he said. “People still offer in-kind donations like that — tents, plants to decorate the campus . . . ”
A group of Boy Scouts from Washington regularly come to help clean up the campus grounds and a church youth group comes in to clean up the kitchen and dining room.
Other groups lend a hand in many ways.
In addition to the school bus the Friends purchased first for Emmaus residents, other items the group has funded the last 40 years include many more vehicles — from station wagons to vans — as well as furniture, new kitchens in the residences, computers . . .
The Friends also have funded grounds maintenance work such as tuckpointing the bridge from Highway D onto the campus and paving the roads on campus. They have funded residents participation in Special Olympics and therapy at Exceptional Equestrians.
They support the Heifer Project by sponsoring a group to work on the ranch in Arkansas, cleaning stalls, caring for the animals and other tasks.
The Friends also fund many of the entertainment events (like bringing an Elvis impersonator to sing) and recreational activities, including the pottery class mentioned earlier, for residents.
When an Emmaus supporter, Ralph Dreyer, who was a volunteer bus driver for the residents, spoke to members of his church, Immanuel UCC at Holstein, about sponsoring the installation of a swimming pool on campus because it was so difficult and time-consuming to load and unload the residents and their wheelchairs from a bus to have them swim at locations off campus, and the church donated funds for the pool, it was the Friends who funded the building to enclose the pool so it could be used year-round.
For the last two years the Friends have partnered with The Homestead at Hickory View, a retirement living community in Washington, on a fundraiser called the Tannenbaum Project.
Groups and individuals donate decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and other greenery which are sold in a silent auction with proceeds going to the Friends of Emmaus.
The Friends used those funds to install a canopy over the patio at the rec center so residents could better enjoy time outdoors and even attend an outdoor cooking class where they are protected from the sun and rain.
Looking ahead, the Friends aren’t sure what the next big project or donation will be, but they are hopeful that the community will continue to stand behind them.
After 39 years of fall bazaars, the Friends are trying to spread the word the event has been moved to spring.
To those who have never been to Emmaus or the fall bazaar, they say, “Come on out!”
“We always say to people, ‘Once you cross that bridge, you’re hooked,’ ” Gildehaus commented. “You come and listen and you stay. It’s a very peaceful place here.
“If you’re ever having a bad day, just come here and you’ll feel better.”
For more information about the Friends of Emmaus, the Spring Festival or to make a donation, people may call Mary Fischer at 636-561-7747.