January Volunteers of the Month
Karen and Bill Stull
With each passing day, Karen and Bill Stull saw Karen’s brother, Glenn Ettinger’s, health decline. “It was the day he put away his golf clubs for good that told us he truly needed our support,” says Karen. The Stull’s decision to uproot their lives in Ambler, PA and move to Macungie, PA to take care of Glenn in his own home, came without hesitation. “We did not want him to live with fear of falling, of being alone, or without constant care,” notes Bill. In 2001, shortly after Glenn’s ALS diagnosis, Karen and Bill packed up their lives and moved in with Glenn so that he could receive the best possible care from those who loved him.
Glenn was divorced and lived with his parents. His father passed away and soon after his mother’s health began to decline. Karen and Glenn’s younger sister, Eunice, took their mother in her home while Karen and Bill relocated to Glenn’s home in Macungie. “Glenn was a wonderful patient – I credit his faith in God for that,” notes Karen. “But, my greatest gift in his care and ultimately in caring for myself was The ALS Association. I knew nothing about ALS back in 2001 and I attended educational seminars presented by the Chapter where I learned about the disease and what lay ahead. The preparation enabled me to be a better caregiver. When Glenn was taken to the ER for a breathing problem, I learned how few people – even in the medical field – understood ALS. Even in a hospital, the first thing the nurse asked me was, “What is ALS?” I wasn’t shocked because The ALS Association Association’s seminars discussed this lack of knowledge and prepared me for this outcome, remarks Karen.
|Glenn with his prized pups
“Then, when I visited the nursing home to see if that would be a good option for my brother, and the tremendous amount of work they had to do and equated it with how much my brother needed me, the answer was easy…to move in with my brother,” said Karen. “Have you ever had ALS patients in your facility?” “One” was the reply. “Well, I realized “Glenn cannot do this – he needs us.” The uniqueness of caring for an ALS patient makes adequate nursing home care so difficult.”
So, Bill retired, I took a leave of absence from my support staff position in the Wissahickon School District and we began a new chapter in Macungie. Because we moved in with Glenn he was able to keep his beloved dogs which were another plus,” she continues. Caring for Glenn and dealing with the intricacies of ALS required far greater expectations…the learning process for Karen and Bill was bolstered by the services provided by The Greater Philadelphia Chapter.
Sadly, Glenn passed away in November of 2002. But Karen and Bill’s need for the Chapter entered a new phase. “Wendy Barnes and the Lehigh Valley ALS Support Group helped us tremendously. I was very hard on myself for not being in the room with my brother when he passed. At Wendy’s Support group, I met a woman with bulbar ALS who could not speak. She gave me a handwritten note that I will never forget – “Karen, please don’t be upset with yourself. Those of us who have ALS know how much our caregivers love us and sacrifice for us” What gift that note was!” recalls Karen.
“After Glenn died we were so busy getting our lives in order, and then when we returned to Ambler – it hit me. He’s gone….One of my best decisions was to join a Chapter bereavement group,” she concludes.
Soon thereafter, Bill and Karen started to volunteer. They participated in the Lehigh Valley Walk to Defeat ALS® and became mainstays in the Chapter office in Ambler. “We stuffed envelopes, packed up bags…any time you asked, we came,” remarks Bill.
Giving of themselves comes easily to our January Volunteers of the Month. It was instilled in their lives at a young age. Bill spent his early years in Brazil. The child of Baptist missionaries, he saw his parents perform ministries of service, education and religion in their daily lives. He then moved on to boarding school for six years, attended Wheaton College in Illinois and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Temple University. “God put people into my life who enabled me to begin my dream job at Wissahickon Middle School in Ambler, PA in 1966 and stay in that position for the next three decades,” says Bill. Teaching is Bill’s passion and you can see that the moment you meet him. He explains in great detail, stopping to make sure you understand. “No matter what happens in the world, we’ve got to work on being civil to each other,” notes the optimistic Bill.
Karen’s mother’s own faith taught her to always help people. “You do what you can for people in need,” was her motto. “I learned from her taking care of her parents and this attitude as well as the importance of volunteering was passed from one generation to another. Honestly, what volunteering does for us is just as meaningful as what we do for others,” reveals Karen.
Karen and Bill met on a blind date and married in 1970. Karen received a degree in Christian Education and ultimately her Master’s in Education from Lehigh University with an emphasis in counseling. Her education served her well when caring for her brother as well as raising their four sons, who are a great source of pride for Karen and Bill. The Stulls speak with great love as they talk of the successes of Michael, Matthew, Jonathan and Joshua as well as the eight grandchildren who give them many reasons for happiness.
“Okay – let’s do this!” is the reply with each Chapter ask for assistance. Whether it is an envelope stuffing project or preparing materials for an event, the challenge for Karen and Bill was never an issue – they are clearly the “YES” volunteers and we at the chapter are so thankful for their many years of giving back. They stay inspired, pushing harder despite the obstacles they have faced.
“We are humbled and grateful for this award. We are grateful for The ALS Association that provided such a wonderful support system and ALS education for us. We could not have been there for Glenn without the Chapter’s encouragement and help along the way,” notes Karen.
Glenn’s legacy, his love of family, pets, and life, are all part of the ALS healing process…one that Karen and Bill Stull understand and carry with them each time they give of themselves to the ALS cause.