Zachary Fisher was born with a heart for the US Armed Forces — a passion that ultimately defined his life. The fruits of Fisher’s labor and love bear his name at the Fisher Houses, where family members can stay while attending wounded military members recuperating in hospitals — located on military medical facilities across the nation.
“If he didn’t have a penny in his pocket he still would have gone around and done good deeds for the men and women of armed forces,” said Fisher House Vice-President of Communications James Weiskopf.
Fisher’s wealth and support of the military (which he was unable to join due to health issues) lead to the 1990 upstart of the Fisher House, which provide a “home away from home” for families of battle-wounded soldiers and recovering military personnel. Fisher donated more than $20 million to the construction these homes, each located within walking distance of every major military hospital facility in America. Because soldiers must report to different hospitals according to specific injury, families must often travel long distances to be with their loved ones.
Weiskopf, retired from the Army as a senior public affairs officer, discovered Fisher House in 1996. He wanted to stay involved with the military and is now in his 11th year. “This is what I want to do until I decide to start drawing social security,” he told HUMAN EVENTS.
There are currently 38 Fisher Houses, ranging in size from 8 to 21-rooms, and constructed specifically to reflect a “home” experience, rather than a hotel. Families share a common dining room and living room area and the homes are maintained by a house manager as well as volunteer staff.
Wendy Gade and her five-year-old daughter Anna Grace lived in a Fisher House for almost a year in 2005 when her husband, Army Captain Daniel Gade, was severely injured in a blast in Ramadi, Iraq.
The Gades were referred to Fisher House by the Army and immediately pursued the opportunity for support when they were uprooted to Washington DC where Daniel would undergo treatment at Walter Reed Hospital.
“It took such an enormous weight off our shoulders,” said Wendy Gade. “We didn’t have to book flights, wd didn’t have to call airlines…all we really had to do was pack our bags, get on plane…they took care of the entire thing including the bill and…really eased our burden.”
The cozy atmosphere and mutual support of other families living in the home provided strength for enduring the difficult time in a new place.
“Some days life is really busy but the nice thing about Fisher House is that you don’t have to spend a ton of time together because you have a common experience and that’s just really powerful because your there because you want to see your loved get better,” Gade said.
Weiskopf said the strength of the program is the interaction of the families. “They can range from an 18-year-old spouse of a Private to a 65 or 70-year-old spouse of a retired general and everything in between,” he said. “Whether it be veterans or retired or still serving, they all have something in common…a loved in the hospital undergoing treatment for illness, injury, combat wound…”
Daniel Gade, who eventually had his right leg amputated at the hip, now “walks beautifully,” according to his wife, using a leg that is powered so it helps propel leg forward. “He’s a very determined person.”
Wendy Gade now speaks frequently on behalf of Fisher House. (Her husband has made a strong recovery — currently working at The White House on behalf of disability policy.)
“[Fisher House] has done so much and enabled us to have an environment where we could get better,” said Wendy Gade. “They gave to us so generously and without question and so — lavishly.”
The homes boast a 90-100% occupancy rate throughout the year and several are in the process of construction. Families stay for free and the organization stays afloat with donations, fundraisers, and trust funds. This year, Fisher House is sponsoring a 199-member team to run the 2007 Marine Corps marathon in DC. Participants must raise a minimum of $500 to run, which will go towards the finest homes Fisher can build.
“It’s all very high end construction, top of the line, finest materials,” said Weiskopf. “We generally like to find a general contractor who does high end residences. The 21 room house we build today will run within the range of about fully furnished $4 million dollars a home.”
The Fisher House organization has an agreement to build and donate fully furnished homes if the government agrees they will always use the house for the original purpose. The demand for more homes is consistent and Weiskopf said they will continue building so long as the need is there.
Before Zachary Fisher died in 1999, even in the midst of health decline, he used to call one of the Fisher Houses every day. “We used to put together a schedule and he used to call…and talk with the managers and have them put the guest families on so he could chat with them,” said Weiskopf.
According to the website, Fisher was honored separately by Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Margaret Thatcher for his support of charitable organizations. The Fisher House organization also does significant work with partner organizations, and recently took over Operation Hero Miles, to help generate free plane tickets and other services that may be a financial burden on families.
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