Fort Bliss Fisher House to turn 20 years old

By: David Burge
February 21, 2014
El Paso Times

For two decades, the Fort Bliss Fisher House has provided a "home away from home" for military families under the most trying of circumstances, its longtime manager said.

The cozy home, at 7360 Rodriguez St. just inside the Fred Wilson gate at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, provides free lodging for military families who have a relative who has been hospitalized at Beaumont or has been sent to another El Paso hospital.

It will turn 20 years old on Saturday and a rededication ceremony will be held Monday to mark the occasion.

The house is part of a network of 62 homes located near major military or Veterans Affairs Department hospitals.

The home has six bedrooms, including two disabled-accessible suites, a living room/library, a dining room that seats up to 16 and a fully equipped kitchen with a double oven, cookware, a refrigerator, freezer and microwave where people staying at the home can cook for themselves. It also has a laundry room for convenience.

"One of the greatest joys I've had working here is to see the relief on the faces who come here when they open these doors," said Harry E. Hicks Jr., the only manager the Fort Bliss Fisher House has ever had.

"They have no idea what they are getting into," Hicks continued. "Some of them think they are coming to a place that's like a barracks. When these doors swing open and they see this place, you can see the worries melt off their faces. That makes 20 years worthwhile."

The Fisher House concept was started by philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher in 1990. The first "comfort home," as they were originally called, opened in Bethesda, Md., Hicks said.

The goal is to keep military families together during a medical crisis, Hicks explained.

Fisher Houses around the country allow families to be close to the hospitals where their loved ones are staying.

Patients have been shown to recover quicker when they know their family is safe and close by, Hicks said.

These homes also relieve families from the stress of having to worry about hotel bills or making long drives to the hospital, Hicks said.

Hicks plans to retire sometime this year. Before running the local Fisher House, he was in the Army for 30 years, retiring in 1989 as the command sergeant major for Fort Bliss and the Air Defense Artillery Center and School, which were then located here.

"I'm going to miss it," said Hicks, age 72. "I've been taking care of soldiers and their families all my adult life, it seems."

Army Pfc. Heber Lozano is from Las Cruces but is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. Lozano's 4-year-old son, Jaden, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and has been in and out of the El Paso Children's Hospital. Lozano and his wife, Samantha, have been staying at the Fort Bliss Fisher House.

"Thanks to a program like this, I don't have to drive an hour every day," Lozano said. "It's done wonders for me and my family. It takes so much stress off you."

The local Fisher House underwent a major interior renovation in 2005 in which beds, furniture and carpeting were replaced. Some exterior cosmetic work — like painting and window shutters being replaced — is being done this year.

What: Fort Bliss Fisher House, 7360 Rodriguez, will have a rededication ceremony

When: 3 p.m. Monday at the house

Why: To mark the home's 20th birthday. Home opened Feb. 22, 1994

Who: Public can attend