Joe DeRosier is living proof that one person can make a difference.
But DeRosier is far too humble to take credit for the more than $250,000 he and other dedicated volunteers have raised in the Brainerd lakes area during the past 25 years in support of several orphanages throughout Latin America.
Helping orphaned and abandoned children is something that gets in your blood, he said, and it's something that's hard to shake.
Several Guatemalan orphans posed for a photograph in February.
About 25 years ago, DeRosier, his wife, Phyllis, and their children visited his sister, Ann Arnold, now a St. Paul resident who was living in Mexico City and working at the American Embassy. She was knitting hats for children at a nearby orphanage. The DeRosiers visited the orphanage, saw the children and were touched by the story of orphanage founder Father William Wasson and the work he was doing to help orphaned and abandoned children.
Father Wasson was serving a parish in Cuernavaca, Mexico, 50 years ago when he received a call from police asking if he would testify against the person they caught stealing money from the church. When the priest discovered the thief was a 14-year-old boy who was stealing because he was hungry, he refused to press charges. Instead, he asked for custody of the boy. He gained custody of the boy and the eight other boys in the prison cell with him. Five months later Wasson was caring for 32 children.
He became the founder of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, or NPH, which in Spanish means "Our Little Brothers and Sisters," seven orphanages that now serve more than 3,000 children in Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
On that first plane ride home from Mexico City, Phyllis told her husband they ought to do something to help raise money for Father Wasson and his orphans. That year they made many pies and hosted a fund-raising event at their East Gull Lake summer home, raising about $1,300. The NPH orphanages are funded solely by donations.
The DeRosiers became directors of Minnesota Friends of the Orphans North and for 25 years have been members of the International Board of Advisors for NPH. Once a year they travel abroad to attend board meetings. His sister, Rose Schaffhausen, serves as executive director of Minnesota Friends of the Orphans in St. Paul. Four of his sisters serve on the international advisory board along with him and his wife.
DeRosier, a retired plumber, has traveled several times to the various orphanages with a small group of other area volunteers to perform much-needed construction work. They went to Guatemala last year and hope to make a trip back to Haiti next spring.
For 20 years the DeRosiers hosted Mexican fiestas each summer at their East Gull Lake home. They retired in 1999 and for the past five years the event has been held at St. Mathias Park. But this year the DeRosiers will host the fiesta again. Phil and Mary Lou Haverkamp chaired the event last year. DeRosier said they hope someone will step forward and chair the annual fiesta next year so the tradition will continue. Their goal for the Aug. 15 fiesta is to raise $20,000.
If you go
-- Fiesta for Father Wasson's Orphans will begin at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 with Mass and a guest speaker at St. Mathias Catholic Church in St. Mathias Township.
-- A roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings will be served beginning at noon at St. Mathias Park. Games will be available for people of all ages. A silent auction, featuring items from Mexico, will be held. Free popcorn and beverages will be offered and local homemade crafts will be for sale. Hot dogs, nachos and chips will be for sale all day.
-- Sweepstakes drawing will be at 4 p.m., including Madden's East/West Courses golf memberships for 2005, $250 cash, handmade quilt, fisherman's full tackle box and a champagne afghan.
-- Cost for the turkey dinner is $10 for adults, $4 for children ages 4-11 and free for children 4 and younger. With the purchase of a dinner ticket, guests can win $25 in cash, awarded four times during the Fiesta.
-- RSVP for the turkey dinner by Monday. Checks can be made payable to Minnesota Friends of the Orphans and mailed to Joe DeRosier, 11244 Birch Island Road, Brainerd, MN 56401-3077.
-- The event is sponsored by Knights of Columbus and Minnesota Friends of the Orphans.
"This 25th one might be the last one, I don't know," said DeRosier.
More than 15,000 children have been helped through these orphanages.
To find out more information about Minnesota Friends of the Orphans, visit the Web site at www.friendsmn.org.
Anyone who would like more information about the fiesta or would like to volunteer may call the DeRosiers at 829-0422.
JODIE TWEED, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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