Domestic violence agency renames center in honor of former director

By Sean Schultz | For The Compass | August 13, 2014

Rainbow House honors Trish Waschbisch, victim of domestic abuse

MARINETTE — Patricia “Trish” Waschbisch was a Catholic who kept her faith in God despite the challenges to belief she saw daily in her job as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Jessica Honish, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, holds a plaque honoring the late Patricia Waschbisch, who was killed by her boyfriend in Peshtigo last year. The plaque was unveiled July 30, when the Rainbow House building was renamed in Waschbisch’s honor. (Manu Junemann | For The Compass)
Jessica Honish, an advocate for victims of domestic violence, holds a plaque honoring the late Patricia Waschbisch, who was killed by her boyfriend in Peshtigo last year. The plaque was unveiled July 30, when the Rainbow House building was renamed in Waschbisch’s honor. (Manu Junemann | For The Compass)

“She truly believed we all had a purpose, that in the big plan, no one was supposed to be hurt and live in fear,” said her close friend and fellow advocate, Jessica Honish, who worked with her for 13 years.

Trish believed, right up to the time she was murdered by her boyfriend on April 28, 2013, at the home they shared in Peshtigo. Just 45, she was stabbed to death by 49-year-old Brent Kaempf.

Her death at the hands of that man was the ultimate horror for the very population — domestic abuse victims — that she worked to protect for over a decade in Marinette, Oconto and Menominee (Mich.) counties, her co-workers say today.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 10, Marinette County Circuit Court Judge David Miron sentenced Kaempf to life in prison without possibility of parole for first degree murder.

Two weeks ago, on July 30, the building that houses Rainbow House, where Waschbisch served as director and client advocate, was renamed in her honor, the Patricia Waschbisch Center Against Domestic Violence. The center itself will remain Rainbow House, however, and continue to preserve her legacy by serving clients in the three counties.

A plaque was affixed to the front of the building with the new name, Honish noted, but it is the smaller version of that same plaque, placed at the client entrance at the rear of the house, that will have the most impact.

“We want people to ask why,” Honish said. “We want her story to be told for years to come. It will impact people every day, how quickly things can escalate. You don’t always see it coming.”

Faith goes hand in hand with domestic violence victims recovering their lives, Honish said. “A lot of clients turn to their faith when they’re going through incidents of domestic violence. When they’re looking for a fresh start, relationships with friends and family sometimes get deteriorated. But the churches are so non-judgmental. They go to church first, look for guidance, make new friends, do Bible studies.”

Oftentimes, she said, clients question “Why does it happen? God doesn’t want his children to be hurt.” But, she noted, “We have to put it in his hands.”

The staff at Rainbow House, as well as clients old and new, have suffered the loss of Waschbisch. Honish and others can barely speak the killer’s name aloud. “He took away a big part of our agency,” she said. “My buddy is gone. She is completely irreplaceable.”

The numbers served by Rainbow House from April 1 to June 30 tell of the need:

  • 146 nights of shelter occupancy;
  • 60 new first-time calls;
  • 104 hotline calls from people in crisis;
  • 661 hours to adults and children needing advocacy, legal assistance and personal advocacy.

“We are one of the few agencies in the state that also houses men who are victims here as well,” Honish noted. “We are never without one or two residents in the shelter at all times.”

Courtney Olson of Milwaukee hired Waschbisch to be a legal advocate in 2001. When Olson stepped back to roles as board member and volunteer, Trish took over as interim director in 2011. After her death, Olson was asked to become executive director of Rainbow House, sharing hours and duties with Honish.

“Many people have asked me, ‘How could this happen to Trish with her role as a legal advocate?’ But this is not something she allowed to happen,” Olson said. “If domestic violence impacts one of four women in their lives, there is no reason that working for a domestic violence center makes you exempt.”

She said faith is important.

“We do have to have faith and hope that people’s life circumstances can improve. There is a higher power that gives us each an opportunity to change,” Olson added.

She was touched by the outpouring of concern from domestic abuse centers in the region who offered staff to fill in for Rainbow House staff so they could attend funeral services and candlelight vigils and grieve for their loss while still being sure that client needs were met. Businesses offered help, too, among them the Edward Jones Agency in Marinette that provided the bronze plaques commemorating the new building name.

Olson said that this year, the Governor’s Council on Domestic Violence created the Patricia J. Waschbisch Legacy Award to be given out annually to a victim or advocate who works for the cause of domestic abuse.

Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve worked closely with Waschbisch and said that, ironically, the very room where he had to announce her violent death in April 2013 was the same room where he had presented her, just four months earlier, with the Victims of Domestic Violence (VINE) Award to honor her as a person making a difference in Marinette County.

“She was one of a kind, a very dedicated person in her efforts,” Sauve said. “She sure did help a lot of people.”

Sauve, also a Catholic, said his Christian beliefs “not only give faith and purpose to human life, but there are times when you see such bad things, the dark side of people, where if I go to Mass it helps. It strengthens my resolve to keep trying,”

Marinette County Family Court Commissioner Francis Boyle, in front of whom domestic violence victims and their alleged abusers appeared regularly, was devastated when Waschbisch was killed. She kept him and other local judges current with new rulings as they were handed down.

“You had to have faith to do that job, and have faith in people, too,” he said. “She went to bat for the people who came in here. She was an excellent woman.”

Jeanne Harper and her husband, David, worked closely with Waschbisch and Rainbow House through their work at St. Vincent de Paul. Jeanne is secretary of the St. Joseph Conference of St. Vincent de Paul and a SVDP national vice president.

When Rainbow House clients were ready to move out into their own living quarters, St. Vincent de Paul helped provide furnishings and some financing to help until they were established in new jobs. The food pantry also provided food supplies.

“(Waschbisch) gave of her time and energy all the time,” Harper said. And when Rainbow House had leftovers from their events, Trish brought the extras to share with St. Vincent de Paul clients. “She created great relationships,” added Harper.

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