Former Little Mary’s guest returns for Boy Scouts service project

Eli Anglebrandt, a former guest at Little Mary’s Hospitality House, returned with his Boy Scout Troop recently to give back to the non-profit organization through a service learning project. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

Eli Anglebrandt, a former guest at Little Mary’s Hospitality House, returned with his Boy Scout Troop recently to give back to the non-profit organization through a service learning project. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

WELLSTON — For 35 years, Little Mary’s Hospitality House has been a source of selfless giving and a safe haven for children when they need it most.

Eleven-year-old Eli Anglebrandt knows firsthand the impact Little Mary’s can have on a family, so on a recent summer morning he returned with a troop in tow on a mission to give back.

“They’ve done so much for us,” he said of the non-profit organization, which provides families with children battling life-threatening or terminal illness a free vacation in the beauty of Northern Michigan. “We needed to give back, so we started thinking, ‘What could we do to help them?’”

Flashback to 2011, when a 5-year-old Anglebrandt learned he had leukemia, a diagnosis no child nor parent should ever have to hear. Young Eli was suddenly thrust into a fight he wasn’t expecting, but fight he did.

What followed was four and a half years of hospital visits, chemotherapy and a childhood-on-pause for Eli and his parents, Todd and Jennifer. Toward the end of this hard-fought battle, however, the Anglebrandts — who live in Lapeer — learned of Little Mary’s Hospitality House in Wellston.

The organization was established in memory of Thomas and Maureen Fischer’s 3-year-old daughter Mary Catherine who died of a terminal brain tumor in 1982. The Fischers have always cherished the final family vacation they took with Mary and have devoted their lives to providing memorable vacations for other families dealing with similar situations.

The result has been over three decades of the year-round, family oriented, free vacation home located on the shore of Crystal Lake, with all the necessary items for day-to-day living provided.

“It’s an awesome place,” Eli said. “I like being out in the wild, because we live in the city. … When we were here, we just had fun — campfires, fishing — it’s not like a hotel where you have to be quiet. You’re outdoors.”

For his parents, the vacation was a much needed escape.

“It was the first time that we, as a family, could really let out a deep breath,” Todd said. “It was good to go somewhere to feel like you weren’t constrained to a germ-free bubble. … The cost of cancer, and any disease, is more than financial. All heck breaks loose emotionally too. For Eli to come up here and be able to be a kid was huge.

“This place is his retreat. It meant getting away from the hustle and bustle of doctors and hospitals.”

Today, Eli is cancer free, three years and counting. He’s already made several return trips to Wellston to visit with the Fischers as well as Little Mary’s house managers Richard and Marilee Duncan, all of whom he considers extended family.

On a sunny morning in June, he was there with his Boy Scout Troop 137 to share the appreciation through a service project.

“The troop wanted to do something a little different this summer,” Todd said of Eli and his fellow scouts. “They decided to travel north and camp at the Manistee National Forest, and since they were looking for a service project, we thought it might be a good idea to reach out to the Fischers.”

The resulting plan was to give a facelift to seven picnic tables and 10 camping chairs located on Little Mary’s picturesque property. With blue, purple, red, orange and green paint, the troop gave the outdoor furniture fresh coats of fun colors.

The Boy Scouts’ project was made possible by a generous donation from their hometown Home Depot.

“They donated 10 gallons of paint, supplies and everything that we needed to do this project,” Todd said. “Home Depot really stepped up and did right by the local boys. … It was certainly a fantastic gesture on their part.”

House manager Richard Duncan was certainly appreciative of the troop’s hard work.

“It means a lot to us to see these children here today,” he said. “We’ve been blessed by so much volunteer help over the years, and it’s especially great to see Eli back here.

“He’s such a good young man, and we love when we see families we’ve met over the years come back to visit.”

This project was particularly educational for the troop, Todd said.

“The importance of this place is absolutely huge,” he explained. “I don’t think enough people downstate know about the opportunity that’s up here. By doing this, we hope to help educate these other boys.

“Even though they’re OK and healthy, there are other kids and families who aren’t, just trying to survive the day,” he added. “So, there’s really some meaning behind this service work.”

And for Eli, it meant even more.

“Absolutely it means the world to Eli,” Todd said. “This will always be one of his favorite vacation destinations, so to come back and give back to the Fischers means a lot to him.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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