Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 16, 2001

Her mission is to brighten the world at St. Mary's

By Patrice Waldron

She has seen a need, and is determined to do something about it. That's one way to describe Marilyn Gatz's mission, to brighten St. Mary's Care Center in Winsted, with her floral creations.

When Marilyn's mother was a resident in the Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center, Marilyn noticed that the walls and other areas in the home could use some brightening up, a homey touch.

While spending time with her mother, she saw the difference that cheery decorations could make. The residents and staff have something pleasant to look at, and the items might even be a conversation starter.

Gatz, owner of County 1 Designs in Winsted, specializes in creating unique, one-of-a-kind decorations.

The wreaths, wall-hangings, lamps, and decorations that she creates are made from items often overlooked or discarded by others.

Her creations, which spout greenery, flowers, ribbon, and lace, can be seen in the lobby of St. Mary's Care Center.

Marilyn took upholstered furniture that was already in the nursing home, grouped it with a couple tables, a lamp from a garage sale, and did her magic.

A large wreath graces the wall behind the couch, lace doilies, antique books, and a table decoration made of an old-fashioned looking boot have been brought together to create an inviting sitting-area in the lobby.

She has the talent, the vision, and the determination to make a difference in the lives of the residents of St. Mary's Care Center.

"These people go there to live. It may be their last place, but they need a homey environment. That is my mission," said Marilyn.

Sometimes, people get so used to looking at the same walls, that they don't even see the need for change. They may become immune to the surroundings, Gatz explained.

That is what she's out to change. "I feel that's what I need to do," said Gatz.

Newspaper ads have been run, seeking donations of things such as silk flowers and baskets. Although she had a terrific response, there are still items she needs to keep the decorating dream alive.

The Ladies Guild and the Sunday school program at St. John's Lutheran Church in Winsted, have donated funds and materials.

"I know there's a need, and I know it can be done, I just can't afford to keep using all of my materials, and volunteering my time," said Gatz.

Along with the flowers, lace, and a container to hold the items together, glue sticks (which she buys by the case), greenery, and floral foam are some of the items she uses for each decoration.

High quality floral items and greenery are used to ensure the decorations won't need to be replaced for a few years.

She would like to see more community involvement and awareness of what an impact adding cheerful decorations can have at the nursing home. She is willing to act as a coordinator for, perhaps, youth groups, Scout groups, or anyone willing to work on the project.

It is good for young people to interact with residents, work on a project, and give something back to the community, said Gatz.

She is very enthusiastic about the decorating project, and feels that it has a positive affect on everyone who visits the nursing home.

Gatz hopes to have some items placed at eye level for those who are in wheel chairs, giving everyone a chance to have a moment of their day brightened.

When creating the decorations, Gatz gears them toward the interests of the residents. She spoke of a collage, made of pictures and advertisements from a 1950s Life magazine. She's hoping it will be a conversation piece that will spark some memories.

Gatz has many ideas, but she needs help from the community to continue her project.

"People often aren't aware of the needs in our own backyard," said Gatz.

Jill Hess-Kollasch, administrator of St. Mary's Care Center, is allowing me to work on this project, because she knows I can do it, explained Marilyn.

She plans to tackle one area at a time, such as the dining area, and the back lounge.

One thing she must keep in mind, while do the decorating, is placement of the finished items. The decorations can't be too close to the floor where they'd be hit by wheelchairs, and the fire code regulations must be considered.

"The whole object is to make it look nice for the residents, and to get the job done," concluded Gatz.

For more information, or to make a donation, call Marilyn Gatz at (320) 485-2463.

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