It was summer 2014, and David Fissell’s wife, Gloria, had been in and out of more than one nursing home. A few weeks before she passed away, she had a talk with her husband of 30-plus years about what his life would be like after her passing.
“She asked me, ‘What are you going to do after I pass away, sweetie?’” he says. “She said, ‘Do you know how many people here tell me how lucky I am to have you?’”
When Gloria Fissell was in the nursing homes, David Fissell hardly ever left her side, staying from breakfast until after supper and helping other residents while she napped. In fact, he was voted employee of the month twice because of his caring efforts and assistance. Gloria Fissell had noticed that many nursing home residents rarely or never had visitors and wanted her husband to do something for those in need after she was gone.
Gloria Fissell died at 80 years old on July 26, 2014. She left her husband a $1,000 stash in their home that he was to use to improve the lives of area nursing home residents.
“I started out trying to help [people on] Medicaid, especially those who didn’t have families,” he says. “After several trips to nursing homes, I found that even residents with traditional insurance or living family members usually had it just as bad.”
Fissell started off helping out at Mount Carmel Senior Living in St. Charles and got involved with bingo, something he says brings real joy to the facility’s residents. They call him “the bingo man.”
“Most people don’t want their relatives or loved ones to go into a nursing home,” Lisa Owen, executive director of the David & Gloria Fissell Foundation, says. “Individuals also don’t want to think about nursing homes, in general, and what may go on there because we’ve all heard stories or seen news reports. It’s challenging for the foundation to find volunteers willing to go into facilities because of the fear and stigma attached to such places. For many individuals, folks in nursing homes are kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – people don’t want to think about it.”
Fissell made the decision in 2016 to start the David & Gloria Fissell Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in St. Charles. The foundation currently serves five St. Charles County nursing homes and assisted living facilities, encompassing more than 500 residents and welcomes volunteers to bake treats, read to residents and play games with the elderly.
The foundation’s goal is to “put smiles on faces every day” and improve the lives of the residents at these facilities by providing items that bring joy and comfort, such as handmade fleece blankets, baked goods, snacks and treats, crossword and word-search puzzle books, and cards, gifts and decorations for holidays and special occasions, such as birthdays, resident appreciation days and ice cream socials. Just weeks ago, residents at the O’Fallon Mount Carmel Senior Living facility celebrated the season at a party that included gifts, carolers, festive décor and holiday candy.
Fissell now plays bingo every day of the week across four different facilities, which costs the foundation between $450 and $550 a month.
Owen explains that bingo is “really meaningful” for the residents. “The games are a wonderful opportunity for seniors to get out of their rooms, make friends, socialize with other folks and engage in a purposeful activity,” she says. “This helps them get a little exercise, use fine motor skills and keep their brains sharp. In addition, residents know that Dave and the foundation he represents truly care and are looking out for them.
“One item that’s extremely special to our residents are the blankets we make and distribute. You can’t imagine how much comfort our warm, soft and cuddly homemade fleece tie blankets bring to lonely seniors and disabled folks in the care centers and rehab facilities we serve!”
Fissell says Gloria is his guardian angel and continues to watch over him as he works tirelessly to bring some joy to the lives of area nursing home residents.
“We were married over 30 years,” he recalls fondly. “I was her third husband, and she was my fourth wife, but we were together longer than all the other ones added up. She was my soulmate.”
David & Gloria Fissell Foundation, 314-764-5042, dgfmemfund.org