Walking, Talking Tannenbaums

Sisters Mary Fischer, 72, and Betty Gildehaus, 76, learned consideration, kindness and charity from their father.

Gildehaus is the oldest and Fischer is the second oldest female in a group of 16 children. While heading a Missouri household of 18 people during the economically and socially turbulent decades of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s he taught his children the act of paying goodness forward by example.

Both recall him giving back to the community in ways he could and encouraging his children to do the same.

“I remember Dad saying, ‘You have a lot to be thankful for,’ ” Fischer said.

As the two women raised families of their own, they practiced service not as a moral obligation, but out of habit and desire.

Both women had five children — four boys and one girl, each.

As their children began grade school Fischer, in particular, said she took an interest in their education and upbringing outside the home. She and her husband, Harry, were consistently involved with things like classroom activities, student projects, school/community partnerships and social events.

Fischer’s children grew and moved away  — to London, Chicago and Kansas City, with the nearest living in O’Fallon. She and Harry traveled, and still do occasionally, but since resettling in Missouri in 2000 Fischer and her sister have become devoted to Friends of Emmaus, Marthasville.

Gildehaus’ son, Orville, lived at the Marthasville Emmaus Home — a not-for-profit faith and ministry inistitution that provides residency, social and educational support and recreational and communities activities for adults and seniors living with developmental disabilities — for 22 years.

Emmaus and Friends

Nearly 90 percent of the cost of basic care for Emmaus residents is funded through the Missouri Department of Mental Health. However, government subsidies are under close scrutiny; as money directed to Emmaus dwindles, heath care services remain costly.

Emmaus Homes depend on individuals, businesses and faith-related philanthropy to provide for the residents’ unique needs.

Friends of Emmaus is a 501(c)(3) corporation independent of Emmaus Homes.

According to Fischer, about 40 years ago, the group began to find ways to enrich residents’ lives and support some of their personal needs. Friends regularly provide volunteer services and financial contributions that allow residents opportunities to learn from and enjoy life experiences.

Recent contributions from Friends of Emmaus include an outdoor pergola and raised flower beds at the Marthasville Emmaus Home.

Small considerations like the protection the pergola offers to climate-sensitive individuals or flower beds above ground level to accommodate wheelchair or walker users amount to luxuries for Emmaus residents.

Such mindful modifications to the campus are essential for fulfilling interaction between individual residents, residents and staff, residents and family members as well as residents and the greater community.

Orville, Gildehaus’ son, died in 2008 but his mother and aunt remain committed to the Friends of Emmaus mission.

Gildehaus has been recording secretary for the Friends of Emmaus board for the past four years but she’s lost track of how long she’s been a member of Friends of Emmaus. Fischer has been a member of Friends for more than 12 years and has served on the board for eight years. She is currently the board president.

Gildehaus still enjoys visiting the Marthasville home. She said the residents happiness is infectious.

“If you’re ever having a bad day just go there.”

Auction Ambitions

By the end of the year the Friends’ goal is to provide Emmaus with funds to purchase two new, multi-passenger, handicap-accessible vans. Emmaus currently has accessible vans but Gildehaus described them as “side of the road” vehicles.

“They’re always in the shop,” she said.

Fischer acknowledged providing such large expensive items is ambitious, however, she has faith in the upcoming Tannenbaum Auction — a holiday fundraiser co-hosted by The Homestead at Hickory View Retirement Community.

The event has gained significant prestige and popularity in just four years and the growing dollar amounts show it.

Trees, topiaries, wreaths, centerpieces decorated for the holiday, sometimes with a special theme, and other items are placed up for sale in either a silent or public auction.

According to Gayle Hachman, Tannenbaum Auction chair, the number of donations skyrocketed from 25 items in its first year to 109 items last year.

A new category for donations was created in 2011 to accommodate an interest in donating nonholiday items.

Additionally, in the first week of October, auction organizers surpassed their initial goal of 150 items and anticipated closer to 200 by the last day to make donations.

Last year the auction raised more than $13,000 for Friends of Emmaus.

Hachman said she fully expects to sell 500 tickets for the Nov. 14 public auction and holiday dinner. She said the number of requests for appearances by the walking-talking Tannenbaum trees to sell advance tickets for the event has been high.

She isn’t concerned that tickets will be over sold, in pre-event sales or at the door the night of the event. In fact, she’s anxious for such a thing to happen.

“I want that problem,” Hachman said. “I want that problem so bad, I can’t stand it.”

She added that she’s confident any changes that need to be made to accommodate the crowd on Nov. 14 can and will be made.

Selfless Interest

Fischer estimates Friends of Emmaus has donated about $700,000 to support the residents’ needs and interests over the years.

Money has gone toward anything from Special Olympics entry fees to visiting Exceptional Equestrians to purchasing an individual resident a new reclining and lift chair to replace a badly working one.

The personal time commitment necessary to make the Tannenbaum Auction and similar events successful is significant, however, Fischer has never considered keeping track, really.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you do that?’ ” Fischer said. “I tell them, ‘Because I can.’ ”

The alternative, Gildehaus said, is being alone, bored, cranky, even depressed.

“It’s not a part out of your life, it’s part of your life,” Fischer said.