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IA - Parish pitches in after accident

PO BOX 5079 (51102)
SIOUX CITY, IA (51105)
712.255.2550  800.352.9035

Parish pitches in after accident
Globe staff reporter

Enjoying his last day of vacation back in June, Mel Wieseler was fishing in Nebraska. As he tried repositioning himself on the cooler he was sitting on, the cooler went off the seat in the boat and he lost his balance.

Unsuccessful in his attempt to catch himself, the custodian at Nativity in Sioux City fell out of the boat, catching himself by his knees. Unknown at the time, Wieseler had shattered the blood vessels in his right leg and ruptured the main artery behind his knee.

"I was 3 hours from a hospital and by the time we made it there it was too late and they had to amputate my leg up above the knee," said Wieseler, 64.

Upon hearing the news of their custodian's accident and knowing he would be unable to perform his duties, Nativity parishioners sprang into action to help.

"We met about two days after Mel had his accident and we knew what his situation was," said Father Gerald Feierfeil, pastor. "I invited as many people in the parish as could come to an evening meeting."

Five committees were established: one to clean the church, one to mow the grass, one to clean the school, another to set up for special events and one to take care of fix-ups.

"Between those five committees they took care of absolutely everything all summer long," Father Feierfeil said. "They mowed the grass, they cleaned the church, they got the school ready for the new school year [and] did a lot of little painting and fix-up projects that Mel would have taken care of."

John Wiederin estimated at least 45 people attended the initial meeting. Wiederin, along with fellow parishioner Jerry Schulte, had regularly helped Wieseler during his 25 years as custodian, but not in the same capacity as after the accident.

"After school was out, all the rugs in the school had to get cleaned," Wiederin said, adding that he really enjoyed helping his friend. "I did probably 90 percent of that. We put in some long days, but it wasn't that bad."

Volunteers also helped scrub and clean the floors, wash windows, mow the grass, repair the wood fence, clean the church, replace the lighting and ceiling tiles and perform tractor maintenance, he said.

There were many more people, Wiederin said, who wanted to volunteer, but couldn't because of their work schedules.

Schulte said he was used to helping Wieseler out.

"When he went on vacation or had a doctor's appointment or something, I took the keys and opened up and locked up again, cleaned the floors - whatever are the necessary things a custodian does," Schulte said.

Judy Verschoor organized a group to clean the church after Wieseler's accident. She stepped forward, she said, because she knew the parish needed help and the parishioners needed to "take up the slack."

"There were an awful lot of people that came forward to help," she said. "It was wonderful to see the parish pull together in support of Mel and in support of Father and the parish as a whole."

While a new custodian was recently hired, Verschoor and her cleaning group will continue to clean the church. Volunteers will also continue mowing the grass, Father Feierfeil said, adding that volunteers will also probably help with snow removal when that season rolls around.

"I'm just so very, very proud of the parish and how they stepped up and volunteered all over the place to take care of things," Father Feierfeil said. "We've kind of got the spirit going of people taking some real ownership of the facilities and that's been a wonderful thing."

Besides supporting Wieseler with their labor, parishioners have also been supporting him with their prayers. The morning after his accident, over 250 people gathered for a Mass offered for his intention, Wieseler said. It was that morning that he had his leg amputated.

"It makes you stop and think how much a person is appreciated," he said of the support he's received. "It's choking, heart-stopping."

While the accident affected him at first, Wieseler said his faith and a lot of prayer have helped him get through it. He added that he often wears a finger rosary that gets its use.

The parishioners at Nativity are not finished helping out Wieseler quite yet. A Sneaky's chicken benefit dinner will be held from noon-2 p.m., Oct. 5. The dinner will be a freewill offering.

"We're certainly welcoming any gifts, any well-wishes that people would like to extend to him," Father Feierfeil said. "It's a thank you for 25 years of service and it's also a benefit because there are some expenses that he needs to take care of."

Some of those expenses include making his house wheelchair accessible. While Wieseler, who is currently training the new custodian, will eventually get a prosthetic leg - two actually, a nicer one with a computer and one that can get wet while hunting and fishing - he will still be in the wheelchair from time to time.

He doesn't know exactly how he's going to do it, Wieseler said, but one thing he hopes to do soon is thank everyone for all their help.

"I just want to thank everybody for what [they] have done," he said. "I've got a big job to do on that yet."

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