READ THEIR STORIES

 

James Varrone

Since 1984, roughly 70 children who otherwise could not afford a Catholic education have attended Corpus Christi Catholic School using tuition assistance from an endowment fund.

“The fund supports two or three students per year,” said Corpus Christi principal John Kraus. “They are kids who in most cases could never have afforded to go to Catholic school without some help.”

The fund was established through a bequest from longtime Corpus Christi parishioner James Varrone, who himself had grown up in Colorado Springs and attended the school in the 1920s. This year, the students chosen by the school to benefit from Varrone’s generosity are seventh-grader Angel Viramontes and his younger Sister Alyson, who is in third grade. Their mother, Teresa, is a single parent who is not only raising her children but also taking care of her ailing mother.

“I didn’t know his name, but I am very grateful for all that he has done,” said Teresa Viramontes of Varrone. “My mother has been sick since I was four years old. I really needed a hand.”

“I’d like to tell him, ‘Thank you,’” added Angel, who plays on the school basketball team. “It’s important to me to help Mom – I help her all I can. It’s hard for her.”

James Varrone was born in 1913 to Italian immigrants and was the second oldest 10 children. He and his youngest sister, Philomena Varrone, were the only two children in the family to graduate from both Corpus Christi and St. Mary’s High School. Varrone served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, then went on to work as a miner and welder. He and his wife Evelyn had no children, so Varrone lavished attention on his nieces and nephews, said his niece Carolyn Marshall, who helped to establish the endowment fund.

“He spoiled all the nieces and nephews,” Marshall said. “My fondest memory is Sunday dinner. He would always take us for a ride downtown to get an ice cream cone and tour Colorado Springs.”

Upon Varrone’s death in 1984, a bequest from his estate was used to establish a tuition endowment fund for Corpus Christi School. One big advantage was that, as an endowment, the fund will benefit students in perpetuity. The Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Colorado Springs manages and grows many such funds for parishes, schools and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.

“Regardless of the purpose for which the funds are set aside, our job is to usefully manage their growth, and the James Varrone endowment is a prime example of that,” said Jamie Crane, Director of Development and Planned Giving for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

Teresa Viramontes demonstrates her gratitude for the tuition assistance her children receive in many ways, including working concession stands at school sporting events, helping on cleaning days and other volunteer work.  The Viramontes have attended other schools in the past, but the whole family agrees that Corpus Christi is where they want to stay.

“I never want the kids to have to go back,” said Teresa. “I want to keep them here because they excel now.”

“I love this school. I would never want to go back to another school – never,” insisted Alyson.

“Records have shown that disadvantaged kids who go to Catholic school are four times more likely to go on to attend college,” said Holly Goodwin, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

For more information legacy gifting, contact Crane at 719-866-6518 or jcrane@diocs.org.

 

Dick and Evelyn Koprowski

On the last Thursday of the month for more than 30 years, as well as any fifth Saturdays, Holy Trinity parishioners Dick and Evelyn Koprowski have been in charge of cooking the daily meal at Marian House soup kitchen. What’s more, the pair spends three days a week driving around to local grocery stores to pick up food donations for the soup kitchen. All told, it adds up to a huge commitment, but the Koprowskis show no signs of slowing down.

“If you retire and just sit back and do nothing, then you might as well call it quits in life,” said Dick Koprowski, a retired engineer. “We like to stay active. That keeps us moving; we have aches and pains but we keep going.”

Dick and Evelyn met in the early 1970s Oak Brook, Illinois, when both of them were working for Xerox Corporation. The couple married in 1976 and, after a decade of moving around the country due to job changes and transfers, settled in Colorado Springs in fall 1987, where they quickly got involved at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.

“It was a nice, friendly, warm Hispanic community,” Dick recalled. “Father Francis Colon was the priest at that time. Almost as soon as we walked in the door, they were looking for coordinators for the Marian House, and Evelyn stepped up.”

Evelyn, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was a valuable addition to the group of volunteers because she was bilingual.

At that time, the soup kitchen was located in an old Victorian house that had served as a convent for the Sisters of Loreto who staffed St. Mary’s High School. The kitchen was cramped and had no air conditioning, meaning that volunteers worked in sweltering temperatures during the summer months.

“We used to call it the human car wash,” Evelyn said. “By 10 a.m., you were totally drenched.”

Nonetheless, the Koprowskis remained faithful volunteers. Over the next two decades, Evelyn became a volunteer driver, using a box truck to collect food donations from grocery stores.  She also coordinated a partnership with Black Forest Lutheran Church and Holy Trinity Parish to form a team of volunteers, with each church contributing roughly 15 members.

When Dick retired in 2007, he also became a volunteer driver, but only after being trained by Evelyn.

"I showed him the ropes,” Evelyn joked. “Let me tell you, it’s not easy training male drivers. We’ll leave it at that.”

About the time that Dick retired, Catholic Charities began raising funds to build a new, state-of-the-art soup kitchen, and the Koprowskis played a significant role. Not only were they major donors themselves, as members of the capital campaign committee, they spent many hours meeting with other prospective donors to explain why the soup kitchen was an asset to the community.

“The community came together to build that wonderful structure,” Evelyn said. “We went to houses and presented ourselves as members of the community who wanted to see this flourish. You’d be surprised how people opened their hearts and how comfortable we were talking to them.”

Seeing the project come to fruition in 2008 was deeply satisfying, they said.

 “The transition from a 100-year-old house to what we have now made a tremendous difference,” Dick said. “It has air conditioning, more cooking apparatus and a nice family dining room.”

In 2015, the couple were among the first donors to join the Catholic Legacy Society, which consists of people who have included a parish, school, or other diocesan entity in their estate planning. The Koprowskis have designated both the soup kitchen and Holy Trinity Parish as beneficiaries of their estate.

“We wanted to make sure they would be sustained in the future,” Evelyn said. “We always say, ‘You can’t get buried with it, so leave it for something that will be of monumental value.’”

“We encourage people to be doers and believers,” Dick added. “The Church has been there for us, and it’s our turn to give to the Church.”

In 2016, the Koprowskis were finalists for Catholic Charities USA’s Volunteer of the Year award. In their nomination of the pair, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado noted that, “It can be difficult to find a couple who does it all in the name of serving God, but the Koprowskis live their calling to serve all of God’s creatures every day, and they do it in a humble and unassuming way.”

“Dick and Evelyn love everybody they encounter – that is what stands out to me,” said Andy Barton, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. “They are modern-day Good Samaritans.  And they are such hard workers.  Dick is a Catholic Charities Board member, and I call him frequently to touch base about some issue or item of board business.  Inevitably, he is doing some sort of Catholic Charities work when I reach him, regardless of the time of day.  He and Evelyn are either on a truck, picking up food donations, at Marian House helping with a meal, helping with a parish ambassador event, or any number of other jobs -- all in service to our poor and vulnerable.  They are beautiful individuals and a powerhouse team!”

Evelyn said that, while she appreciates the recognition she and Dick have received over the years, it is the gratitude of Marian House clients that means the most.

 “When they come up and say ‘thank you,’ you’ve done God’s work,” she said. “We can’t say no to him -- we just can’t say no.”

 

Isidore Gerstner

If there was a textbook on the virtue of stewardship, Isidore Gerstner’s life could be one of the lessons.

Gerstner, a World War II veteran who passed away in 2010 at the age of 90, named Sacred Heart Church in Cheyenne Wells as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The value of the policy at the time of his death was nearly $89,000.

However, according to those who knew him, Gerstner’s gift to the parish was just the final chapter of a life spent serving the church and the community.

Gerstner was born Feb. 27, 1920 on a farm near Ness City, Kan., according to an obituary published by the Hutchinson News. During World War II, he served in the Air Corps, said Sacred Heart parishioner Francis Thielen.

He never married, and sometime in the mid-1950s he moved to Cheyenne Wells, where he operated a movie theater.

Thielen recalled that on Sundays, Gerstner would show free movies for the Sisters of St. Joseph, who at that time ran St. Joseph Hospital of the Plains in Cheyenne Wells. The facility later became Keefe Memorial Hospital.

Gerstner also contributed his time and talent to Sacred Heart Church, serving as an extraordinary minister and pitching in when work needed to be done at the parish, Thielen said.

“He lived for others, pretty much,” Thielen said. “He got along with everybody.”

Gerstner moved back across the state line to Kansas several years ago to be closer to his family, first living in an apartment in Goodland and eventually moving to a nursing home in Leoti, Thielen said. According to his obituary, he is survived by a brother, Harry; sisters-in-law Murial, Alice, Joan and Rosalie; a brother-in-law Ed; and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.

“Mr. Gerstner’s gift is one of inspiration and forethought,” said Jamie Crane, Director of Development and Planned Giving for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “Gifts such as these make such a huge impact on the life of a parish. What is so great about this kind of gift is that it is something everybody can do.”

For more information on how to include one’s parish in estate planning, contact Crane at 719-866-6518 or jcrane@diocs.org.