In Her Memory
Christmas Missions Bloom at Farragut
By Annette Spence
Rita Hommel loved Christmas. She loved how Christmas involves giving and being with family.
One year, she got so excited about the upcoming season that she talked about inviting a foster child to share the holidays with her family. Her husband vetoed that idea.
"I was the Scrooge in those days," George Hommel says, laughing. "I guess I've repented since then."
Rita Hommel died in August 2005 of melanoma of the liver. She was 69.
The first Sunday following her death, George Hommel joined the membership at First Farragut United Methodist Church. Then he started looking for a way to memorialize his wife of 52 years.
Through the leaders of First Farragut and the Holston Conference Foundation, a plan was conceived. Steve Krupski, First Farragut missions chair, and Roger Redding, Foundation executive director, both remember how George "got excited" when he talked about Rita's love for Christmas, but also her love for hands-on mission projects.
It seemed natural to marry her passions into an endowment that would "share the spirit and joy of Christmas with those people and families less fortunate", says Redding. With funds provided by the Rita Hommel Christmas Mission Endowment, more than 120 volunteers at First Farragut are participating in eight different missions they hope would make Rita proud:
Fruit baskets for 20 shut-ins served by Mobile Meals
New clothing, coats, and toys for six Appalachian children served by Mission of Hope
Twenty hams for the clients of the local FISH food pantry
A pizza party and Christian CDs for a cottage of eight teenage boys living at Holston Home for Children
Gifts for seven other children at Holston Home
A Christmas dinner and gifts for three inner-city families, adopted through the homeless coordinator for Knox County Schools
A Christmas dinner and gifts for three formerly homeless families, located through the Interfaith Hospitality Network
A party (with crafts, cookies, treat bags, and the Christmas story) for 63 children at Wesley House Community Center
In addition, Farragut volunteers plan to visit several area angel trees on the last day before gifts must be delivered and "snatch up" any names yet to be claimed, says Nicole Lane, who is overseeing this year's Hommel project.
To publicize the project and keep parishioners informed of opportunities, Lane placed a large red sign-up chart on an easel in First Farragut's narthex. The Oak Ridge District church has an average worship attendance of 406.
"The hard part was breaking down all these projects into small jobs so that a lot of people could help - because this is such a busy time of year,"says Lane, who is also Krupski's daughter.
"Plus, it was George Hommel's intention to involve as many people as possible," says Farragut missions chair Krupski.
According to his agreement with Holston Conference Foundation, George Hommel will provide "gifts of $100,000 more or less to be funded outright or over a couple of years" for the Rita Hommel Christmas Mission Endowment.
Each year, the endowment will provide a minimum of $5,000 to support Farragut's Christmas missions.
Like many generous givers, Hommel doesn't want attention for his gift, but he does quietly sign up for some of the related mission activities.
"They've really captured the spirit of what this was meant to be," says Hommel, age 73, a retired manager.
Rita and George were married in their hometown of Dayton, Tenn., before moving to Kentucky for more than 30 years. In 2004, the Hommels moved to Knoxville and began looking for a church home. They visited a Presbyterian church and two area United Methodist churches but never settled down.
When Rita became very ill, George got up one Sunday morning and felt a strong need to attend worship. He visited First Farragut and told a church member, "I really want someone to come and see Rita, so when the inevitable happens, they'll at least know her."
The message apparently got to the Rev. Bernice Kirkland, First Farragut's former associate pastor, who promptly came to visit Rita.
"Rita was already at a point where you couldn't understand her speech," remembers Hommel. "But Bernice held her hand, and all of sudden Rita started speaking clearly. She died a few days later."
Kirkland officiated at Rita's funeral on a Saturday. The next day, George joined the church.
"I knew I needed a church home, and First Farragut was it," he said.
Today, George watches in delight as members of First Farragut share in the Christmas joy for which Rita Hommel is remembered.
"Everyone who was around her at Christmas could feel it. She radiated it," says Hommel. "She was a very quiet, private person, but I didn't want her to go without a footprint in the sand."