By Christi Spargur
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The doors to the St. Louis Fisher House officially opened Saturday, Sept. 25.
Located in the Jefferson Barracks Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in St. Louis, the facility provides free lodging to family members of ill or injured veterans and wounded servicemembers.
The St. Louis Fisher House has 20 bedrooms with private, handicap accessible bathrooms along with common living and dining areas and an in-house laundry room. Two unique features include a kitchen with granite countertops, two sinks, two dishwashers, and two refrigerators and an outdoor patio overlooking the Mississippi River.
The facility is a home away from home for families caring for active duty and retired servicemembers who are receiving care at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The St. Louis VAMC is a Level II Polytrauma Center with more than 65 sub-specialties. The St. Louis Prosthetics Treatment Center and the Spinal Cord Injury Program are among two of them.
Established 20 years ago by founder Zachary Fisher, the Fisher House Foundation covers approximately half of the construction costs of each facility. Private donations pay for the remaining costs. Upon completion, the homes are given to the government as gifts. The St. Louis VAMC will operate and maintain the St. Louis Fisher House.
Retired Air Force Col. Jim Donahoe, the president of the St. Louis Fisher House Board, said the home has three goals.
"We want to have as many families as possible by the veteran's bedside to help with the healing and recuperation process. We want to eliminate the dilemma of having spouses living in their cars and vans in parking lots just so they can stay with their loved ones. We want an alternative where families will no longer have to sleep in hospital waiting rooms and lobbies because they cannot afford commercial lodging."
Colonel Donahoe estimates that during the next decade the St. Louis Fisher House will offer 73,000 nights of free lodging to the families of the veterans and servicemembers hospitalized at the St. Louis VAMC.
Several military and civilian dignitaries attended the dedication ceremony Saturday to include Mrs. Susie Schwartz, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and a member of the St. Louis Fisher House Board. "It's been two years since we left Scott Air Force Base, and I have followed the building of this house from afar.
"This house is a symbol of love--a love from all of you, a love we all share for the men and women in uniform," said Mrs. Schwartz. "...It is also a love for their families. ...These homes are special places where families can be comfortable and where there are people who understand what they are going through."
The St. Louis Fisher House is the 46th Fisher House to be completed. By the end of the year, there will be 53 Fisher Houses in operation throughout the United States.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski