Sisters-in-law Karen and Patty Eaton know they have a few things in common, including being members of Our Lady of the Lake 2506 in Ashland, Wisconsin. What they didn’t know was that one of their shared passions — service with Catholic Order of Foresters — would turn into a history-making occasion.
Ashland, Wisconsin warrants a visit if you ever find yourself in the area … or even within a few hours of the lakeshore town. There’s a monstrous ore dock that allows you to walk nearly 2,000 feet out into Chequamegon Bay on the edge of Lake Superior, murals that tell the town’s history in a unique way, and even an artesian well at which you can fill up any jug or bottle with cold, pure drinking water. Even more profound than these engineering, artistic, and natural marvels is the influence Catholicism has had on this town.
According to Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church’s website1, Catholicism in this area dates back to 1650 when Jesuit priests landed with French fur traders. Mass was celebrated at Holy Ghost Church on Maslowski Beach in Ashland (which happens to be where the aforementioned artesian well is located). These priests worked to spread Catholicism throughout the region. Our Lady of the Lake Church — the physical building — followed a couple of centuries later in 1887. It is now one of the oldest parishes in the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin.
Understanding this history is essential to gleaning the real essence of this story. You see, Karen Eaton almost didn’t … see, that is. She was losing her sight due to a pituitary tumor; her peripheral vision was gone. She underwent brain surgeries and radiation to remove most of the tumor, and doctors expected she would be totally blind in both eyes. “Instead, my vision returned. I will be forever grateful for that,” Karen, a Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) member and speech language pathologist at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School, said.
A few years later, when the tumor began to grow, she had to undergo another surgery and more radiation. Her vision, unlike the tumor, was spared.
Karen and her students came up with the idea to collect eyeglasses and donate them to the Lions Club during a school day in January (which also happens to be eye health month) a few years ago. The idea became popular — fast. “This is now the third time we’ve done it, and by far the most glasses we’ve been able to collect with this whole school and parish involved,” she said. “So for me, it’s a real special event.” In total, the group collected 237 pairs of glasses during this event.
Throughout her battle with the pituitary tumor, Karen’s family was by her side. This Feeding God’s Children for a noble cause was no different. Karen’s sister-in-law, Patty Eaton, submitted this Feeding God’s Children event to the Fraternal Outreach Team at Catholic Order of Foresters. Patty said the best part of the event was the level of participation. “Children asking their grandparents and neighbors for glasses, Patricia Westlund (Vice Chief Ranger) donated glasses from her husband that recently passed away…in collecting glasses, we are also helping our local Lions Club,” she said. Karen agrees; the best part was the participation. “Every day I’d come in and in the little bin with the sign, there’d be more glasses!” Karen exclaimed. “Kids would bring them in with such happiness and pride to help people in need; that was really special.”
The energy and event momentum burst out of the school walls. Karen Kay is with the Ashland Lions Club, a group that does eye testing of local students, runs a large summer camp and more. She attended the event on May 5. “The children get so excited about bringing glasses in,” she said. “Lady of the Lake really took this on and really did a wonderful job.” The donations will go to penitentiaries where the inmates clean them; the glasses are then sent to anyone who needs them — anywhere in the world. Karen Kay added, “It makes you feel like you’re really helping someone, and you feel pretty good about that.”
When Patty registered this event with COF, she was focused on getting her events submitted in a timely manner. She had no idea the impact her timing would have. Patty’s event propelled Catholic Order of Foresters to 100,000 participants in Feeding God’s Children history. Karen Eaton and Patty Eaton both describe this as humbling. “It makes us think, ‘What we do makes a difference. What [COF] does makes a difference in our community, now in our school,’” Karen said. Patty added, “It was surprising [and] exciting to have this event that can impact one’s vision inspire us to want to do more to serve more people.”
Karen hopes the students will remember this event for a long time and knows they — no matter how young they are — see something special in this event. “I think they see we can all be of service,” she said. “This has been a tough year and been challenging in many ways, but it didn’t minimize the impact they had in trying to do something good for someone else. We talk about serving like Jesus and kindness in school all the time, but this was something … they saw it come to life in this event.”
Patty emphasizes that one sense — like sight — can significantly impact one’s quality of life. “Having the best eyesight possible can positively impact a person’s ability to see family and friends, education, love of reading, driving, career, health, independence, outdoor sports, love of creation and life in general,” Patty said. Karen concluded, “The blessing of sight is so tremendous, and I want everyone to know that.”
Article by Katlyn Pischel