March 30, 2007

Influence of others motivates Spirit of Service winners

By John Shaughnessy

Spirit of ServiceMartha and William A. Kuntz watched in awe as a man they both loved continued to help others in the last month of his life.

“In September of 1984, my father was whittled down to nothing by cancer,” Kuntz says about his father, William F. Kuntz. “Still, when people came to him, he cheered them up. I remember the final thing he got out of bed for. A neighbor who was in some kind of trouble came to see him. He struggled to get out of bed to help this guy who was down and out. My dad died a few weeks later. That stayed with me.”

The lasting influence of fathers, mothers, grandparents and other role models is a common theme among this year’s Spirit of Service Award winners, a group that will be recognized on April 26 during a dinner that benefits Catholic Charities Indianapolis. (Tables available for Spirit of Service Awards dinner)

For Louise Collet, it was the example of her Irish grandmother and the religious sisters who taught her compassion.

Dr. Raymond Pierce Jr. found his role model in his father who showed courage and intelligence in confronting racism.

For Dr. Mercy Obeime, the inspiration came from growing up as the oldest of 10 children in a small, poor village in Nigeria and knowing that her parents believed that education could change lives.

For Gil Viets, it was the example of a “family” of farmers after his father suffered a heart attack.

Here are their stories:

Martha and Bill Kuntz

When Bonnie Schott began compiling all the different ways that Bill and Martha Kuntz have touched the lives of others, she soon discovered that her longtime friends told the people they have helped that they wanted to keep their efforts quiet and private.

“I heard about a mother who needed help at Christmas,” Schott says. “She said she could make a big difference in the lives of her six children with $300. I called Bill and Martha to ask for the first $100 and they said, ‘We’ll take care of the whole thing.’ I have gone to them several times for help on projects, and they not only say yes immediately, they always give way more than I had hoped for.”

Schott shares other examples of how the couple helped contribute to a computer lab at St. Roch School in Indianapolis and a bus trip to the University of Notre Dame for students at Central Catholic School in Indianapolis—even though they didn’t have children in those schools.

“They remind me of Jesus and his mother, Mary, going about the world showering blessings on all those who ask for their help,” Schott says.

Bill has volunteered for more than 40 years with the Catholic Youth Organization, the organization that his father led when Bill was a child. And Martha is involved with Christ Renews His Parish efforts at their parish, St. Jude in Indianapolis.

“I give primarily out of gratitude for all the love and blessings that God showers upon me and my loved ones each and every day,” Martha says.

Dr. Raymond Pierce Jr.

Ask Dr. Raymond Pierce Jr. about his commitment to the Church, the community and the improvement of people’s lives and he’ll connect his contributions to a moment in the 1950s when his father used his courage and intelligence to make a difference for minorities.

“My father was a small town pharmacist with three children in Monroe, La.,” Pierce recalls. “It was a pre-civil rights time when black people couldn’t attend the segregated libraries of the South. He formed a branch of the library in the black community so we could get books from the main library. He did everything he could for his community and his Church.”

Pierce follows closely in his father’s footsteps. The retired orthopedic surgeon was one of the original board members of the Multicultural Ministry Commission of the archdiocese. He’s involved in efforts

to fight sickle cell anemia, a disease that

predominantly strikes the black community. He’s a board member of the Wishard Memorial Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the healthcare of the poor. He also works to recruit minority students to orthopedic medicine.

“I’m honored and humbled by this award,” says Pierce, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. “I don’t go after these things. I’m just trying to pass along the example of hard work, dedication and giving that I was shown. You can make a contribution by whatever you decide to contribute.”

Louise Collet

The wisdom of her Irish grandmother has stayed with Louise Collet through more than four decades of volunteering to help children, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the elderly and patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“My Irish ancestry said, ‘You always need to do,’ ” says Collet, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “I had a grandmother from Ireland who said, ‘If you have some free moments, you need to do good for mankind.’ ”

That advice was supported by her training as a nurse at the St. Vincent School of Nursing in Indianapolis from 1958 to 1961.

“When I was student nurse, we would have the opportunity on Saturdays to go with the sisters to deliver food and clothing and visit with families in the inner city,” she recalls. “I thought it was a great thing. It was reaching out. It was touching lives. It went along with the nursing concept that you were trying to help those less fortunate than you.”

She has done that through her volunteer efforts in Indianapolis at Cathedral Kitchen, St. Augustine Home for the Aged and A Caring Place, a Catholic Charities Indianapolis program that provides adult day care services. Although she retired from A Caring Place after working five years there as a nurse, she still returns to help by leading a weekly Bible study, serving as a chaperone on trips and filling in when the current staff nurse is sick or on vacation.

“She’s one of the most caring, compassionate persons I’ve ever met,” says Providence Sister Susan Dinnin, the site manager of A Caring Place. “One of our participants was very demanding. Under Louise’s loving care, this person did a turnaround. That person doesn’t have a family, and Louise has become like family to her. She has such a heart for others.”

Dr. Mercy Obeime

When she returned to Nigeria in 2001, Dr. Mercy Obeime thought it could be her last visit to her homeland and the village where she grew up. By then, every part of her life was touched with satisfaction.

She had become a doctor in America, serving as the medical director of St. Francis Hospice and St. Francis Neighborhood Health Center in Indianapolis. She was married and the mother of three children. She had brought her parents and most of her nine siblings to the United States to live and get an education.

Yet, in 2001, when she stopped by a Nigerian clinic where one of her former

medical professors worked, her life changed forever. She saw a man rush into the clinic, carrying his wife who was deathly sick. She heard the husband explain that he had spent the day trying to get medical supplies for his wife, but he didn’t have enough money. She tried to help the woman but it was too late.

“The man starts screaming and cursing at God,” Obeime recalls. “I say to myself, ‘I wish I could have helped.’ He goes back to pick her up and he’s crying. A 5-year-old boy is by her. He’s holding on to the clothes of his mother and he’s saying, ‘Mom, I’ve been telling you all day, I’m dying of hunger.’ ”

Obeime gave the man money to bury his wife and feed his son.

“He goes and kneels down and thanks God for the money,” says Obeime, a member of St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis. “It shows how hopelessness can make people act in a totally different way from who they are.”

Returning to Indianapolis, Obeime knew the family she had to care for in Nigeria was bigger than her parents and her siblings. In 2003, on her 40th birthday, she started the Mercy Foundation, dedicating her organization to bringing hope, mission trips and medical supplies to the people of her homeland.

“I think we’re in this world for a reason,” she says, “and we’re supposed to use our gifts for that reason.”

Gil Viets

The memory has never left Gil Viets,taking him back to the time he was a boy helping his father on the family farm in Brazilton, Kan.

“My parents cared about people,” Viets says. “We lived in a small farming community. When I was 11 or 12, I was driving the tractor and my dad was throwing bales of hay. When we went in for lunch, he had a heart attack. When I got up the next morning, I looked outside and the whole area around the house was filled with other farmers who came to finish baling the hay for our family. By the end of the day, our work was done. I had never seen people come together in that way before.”

Viets will receive the community Service Award for his contributions to the archdiocese and Indianapolis, including being a board member of St. Vincent Health, and helping the United Way and the American Heart Association.

“Every one of us needs help at times,” says Viets, a member of St. Alphonsus Parish in Zionsville in the Lafayette Diocese. “The only way to overcome that is to act like part of a community and become part of the answer for what people need.”

Fifth Third Bank

Fifth Third Bank will receive the Corporate Leadership Award for its many contributions to the central Indiana community and the archdiocese, including being a generous sponsor of the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner and the Celebrating Catholic School Values Awards Dinner.

Among its financial contributions to the community in 2006, Fifth Third Bank Central Indiana donated more than $725,000 in charitable donations and sponsorships, and Fifth Third Foundation awarded $80,000 in grants, according to Natalie Guzman, a vice president and public relations director for the company.

Fifth Third Bank also committed more than $21 million in community development lending while the bank and its employees also pledged $387,000 to United Way in 2006, Guzman noted.

Fifth Third Bank also participates in the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program, which provides housing opportunities for families whose incomes are 80 percent or less of the area median income, according to company officials.

Fifth Third Bank will receive the Corporate Leadership Award for its “generosity, innovative approach and key role in making this community a better place.” †

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