By Pam Chickering Wilson
Daily Union staff writer
JEFFERSON - Rainbow Hospice's Tuck-In service eased the challenges Elmer Waldmann's family faced as his health declined due to terminal cancer. Now Waldmann's family is raising money to help the Tuck-In program serve even more people.
Waldmann's widow, Judy, daughter Wendy Rueth, other family members and friends have found a mission through their new Tomorrow's Hope team, "Walking for Elmer: King of Hearts" and they will be walking in his memory at Tomorrow's Hope's annual Walk Fest Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21.
As part of their tribute, the "King of Hearts" team is doing a "Ribbons of Hope" project, inviting people to "Tie one On for Tuck-In." All proceeds of the fundraiser will go to Rainbow's Tuck-In program, which is funded entirely by the Tomorrow's Hope health care charity.
For a suggested donation of $1, participants may select a ribbon, say a wish or prayer, and tie it to the pretzel wreath the team has made.
Pretzels carry a double significance to the team, first as a nod to Elmer's German heritage, and his role as a former Gemuetlichkeit king and an active member of the Gemuetlichkeit organization for decades; secondly, in connection with the pretzel's original purpose of conveying "little prayers." The twisted pretzel shape was designed to resemble a child's arms folded across the chest in prayer, and it also was used historically to teach children about the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, interconnected - three parts, one whole.
Waldmann, who passed away in January at the age of 76, was a well-known and beloved member of the Jefferson community. An amateur historian who dedicated himself to cataloging the history of Jefferson's downtown business district, he also was a respected public figure in connection with his wife's business, Waldmann Shoes, and his role as past G-Days royalty.
Waldmann had suffered from cancer for almost a decade, losing a leg as a complication of the disease. However, he did not let his infirmity keep him from contributing to the causes he supported, remaining active and volunteering in whatever way he could, albeit from the sidelines.
But his health was never the same, and his ultimate decline came swiftly.
"December 7 he worked at the store," Rueth said. "He entered hospice Dec. 14 and was bedridden before Christmas. In fact, he celebrated his birthday in bed Dec. 16."
As Elmer's wife, Judy was his primary caregiver, and she was so grateful for the wonderful help she received from hospice.
Eventually, hospice representatives determined that he qualified for the Tuck-In service, an extra visit from hospice caregivers between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. to help ready the patient for bed.
"It was just an invaluable service," Rueth said.
The Waldmann family was amazed to learn that this program was funded entirely by Tomorrow's Hope, Rueth said, and this realization turned into the "flicker of an idea" for the mission Elmer's family and friends would take up after his death.
"I'd never been involved with Tomorrow's Hope before, but I had wanted to be," Judy said. "With the store and everything, with Maxwell Days at the same time and with Elmer working in Milwaukee for many years, we had enough to do."
But now the time had come to get involved.
With Elmer's death, the family knew they would form a Tomorrow's Hope team in his memory. The "King of Hearts" name came easily, in reference to his role as a former G-Days king, and also to his genuine warmth and love of people.
"We made sure all of his pallbearers were asked if they'd like to join us, as well as people who were part of the Gemuetlichkeit family," Judy said.
Not long after came the idea to "Tie One On for Tuck-In" with ribbons to be tied to a grapevine pretzel-shaped wreath. The wreath put in an appearance at this year's May Ball and is scheduled to return for Gemuetlichkeit Days in the fall. No doubt it also will be present throughout the upcoming Walk Fest.
In the meantime, anyone can support the project by visiting Waldmann's Shoe Store or purchasing a ribbon at various public venues. For example, Rueth and fellow team member Kelly Becker will be selling the Ribbons of Hope at Jefferson's Concert in the Park July 18.
"The group liked the multi-colored ribbon idea," Rueth said, noting that people can choose a particular color of ribbon based on what type of cancer their loved one suffered from, if they like, or they can choose any color that is significant to them.
A lot of coincidences have followed the team, leading coordinators to believe the mission they have chosen is somehow intended. Purple is the Gemuetlichkeit color this year, Judy said, and the "King of Hearts" team independently chose purple as its color, as that color signifies GIST cancer, the type of cancer from which Elmer suffered, gastrointestinal stromal cancer.
The team's logo will be the giant shoe which Waldmann's Shoe Store used to enter in Gemuetlichkeit parades.
Walkers on the "King of Hearts" team include Wendy Rueth, Kelly Becker, Judy Waldmann, Mary Coffman, Judy Wollin, Sara Wollin, Margaret Vogel, Lauren Bretl, Bonnie and Steve Pauli (the new Gemuetlichkeit king and queen, and close family friends of the Waldmanns') Sheila Frohmader, Diann Pinnow, Chris and Dennis Bieck, Jean Hartwig, and Gail Aumann (who actually belongs to two Tomorrow's Hope teams). Others have stepped forward as supporters, even though they cannot walk at the Walk Fest.
Wendy's husband Dan Rueth is sponsoring the team, and their son Jake, a graphic artist, designed the logo.
For more information on the "Tie one On for Tuck-In" fundraiser, people can visit the team's Facebook page (under the team name "Walking for Elmer: King of Hearts.") People also can find more information about Tomorrow's Hope and the upcoming Walk Fest at that organization's website at www.tomorrowshope.org.