From the start, the Schwallers naturally included Ann in family activities while pursuing other opportunities to keep her in the mainstream of life as much as possible. They went everywhere together. “In 1957, I think we were the first Appleton family to own a VW van,” her father Del Schwaller recalls.
When Ann was very young, he built a custom wheelchair to accommodate his daughter’s diminutive stature for greater safety and to alleviate the occurrence of pressure sores. She and her family used the wheelchair to camp, go ice fishing, hit the nature trails and go on picnics.
They also used it to stand up for justice during the Equal Housing Marches in Milwaukee during the ’60s. Del recalls gathering with other families from his Fox Valley community in the basement of St. Benedict the Moor Church in Milwaukee for a simple meal of beans after the march. “At every curb, and on every stairway, people of all color and age naturally lifted Ann and her chair wherever we needed to go. My kids still talk about those times. They have very powerful memories of what needed to be done at that time and under those conditions.”
Since age 8, Ann has looked – and continues to look – forward to her annual trip to Easter Seals Camp Wawbeek near Wisconsin Dells, where children and adults with disabilities enjoy the beauty of outdoor nature while making new friends. She says it’s an annual highlight for her.
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Ann and Del Schwaller
Parish: St. Thomas More (Ann) St. Therese (Del)
Age: 61 (Ann), 86 (Del)
Favorite saint: Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: “Accept everyone as equal.” (Ann) “I believe in peace and justice, freedom, dignity and hope for everyone, everywhere.” (Del)
Then there’s the Green Bay Packers. No disrespect intended, but this woman’s room is a multi-media shrine demonstrating an uncommon and passionate devotion to the green and gold. In it one will find enough memorabilia to turn any tailgater green, right down to her extensive costume jewelry collection and the “Go Pack!” vanity plate she sports on the back of her power chair.
Remaining at home with Del and her mom, Rosalia, up to the advancing stage of her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, Ann realized it was time to move on. She got her own apartment. But newfound independence also brought unprecedented isolation. Complicating matters, her increasingly compromised ability to properly chew food eventually led to the contraction of pneumonia. Once again it was time to move on.
Ultimately, Ann and her mother shared a room at a community care center where the tables were turned, daughter Ann then taking care of her mom in many respects.
Ann worked as a volunteer for annual CP telethons in Green Bay and Oshkosh. With increasing abilities gained by learning to use a power chair and “light talker” (an infrared light and keyboard communications technology), she gained the independence to serve Goodwill Industries, writing various forms of printed and e-mail communications for that organization.
In fact, since the inception of the annual Human Race fund-raiser 10 years ago, Ann has continued to bear the distinction of being her three-county area’s number one performer every year, raising thousands of dollars for Easter Seals. The Human Race is the largest community fund-raiser in Outagamie, Calumet and Winnebego counties. Ann says it’s her way of giving back. (To pledge, e-mail Ann at [email protected] Her promise: Some time during the Easter Seals pledge drive next spring, she will contact you.)
From care-receiving to care-giving, Ann Schwaller lives a joyful life despite the challenges it presents every day. From her wall, an oversized collage composed of smiling faces from Ann’s multitude of family and friends beams warmly – an arresting testimony to a spirit that’s fully alive.