Interview with Jackie Schmidt -- February 2004
Jackie and her husband Mike have lived in the Seattle area since they were born and are now raising a family of their own on the Eastside.
Jackie Schmidt loves to talk about Gilda's Club Seattle. "When I hear that people are touched by cancer I can't wait to tell them about this place," she said. She also loves to talk about Gilda Radner. Jackie has been a fan since she was a kid. She watched Gilda on Saturday Night Live reruns in the early eighties. Her loyalty was secured in 1984 at age fifteen when Gilda sent a post card to Jackie and her friend Leslie thanking them for a holiday card.
"[Gilda] was always loveable. I don't care what character she played, the essence of her always leaked through," Jackie said.
Long after Gilda's SNL days and her death in 1989, she popped into Jackie's life again. After Jackie's father passed away from prostate cancer in 1998, she had wanted to make a donation in his name, but she didn't know where. In 1999 light bulbs went off when she saw an ad in People Magazine for Gilda's Club. "This was perfect; it had to do with cancer and my childhood!" Jackie said.
She called the New York phone number. They shared the wonderful news that a lady named Anna Gottlieb was attempting to open a Gilda's Club right here in Seattle! Jackie excitedly called Anna without delay to ask her if she would accept a donation. Anna happily accepted her donation and began keeping Jackie updated via e-mail of the long and arduous chore Anna had begun in 1997 of attempting to raise funds and find a clubhouse.
Jackie was hooked "line and sinker" while attending the 1999 Surviving with Style Fashion Show. There she watched model and cancer survivor, Linda Badion, roll down the runway in a wheelchair smiling and glowing. Jackie thought back to a difficult conversation with her newly wheelchair bound father. He had refused to go out to dinner to their "usual place" because he was embarrassed. "I'll wait until I get the strength back in my legs and get out of this chair." A couple of weeks later she decided to send a note to Linda telling her how inspiring she was, as it turned out it had to go to a family member because Linda had already passed away! The family had told Anna that Linda had willed herself to live long enough to do that fashion show.
A defining moment in Jackie's and Gilda's Club Seattle's lives came when her caring husband agreed to support Jackie in taking a spontaneous soul-searching 5 day solo vacation to Hawaii in early 2001. He could see Jackie was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of their household and needed some retreat time. While on the trip, hubby and Grandma Tutu took over the mom's responsibilities caring for their 1 and 3 year old active boys. On this fateful trip she decided to simplify much of their family's life by shedding many of their "things" and committing significantly more time and money to Gilda's Club Seattle.
For the Grand Opening in March of 2002, she dressed up as Roseanne Rosanna-Danna, one of Gilda's famous SNL characters (see picture with Mayor and Anna below). Those early days were exciting! "It was an incredible moment when co facilitating that first new member meeting after the Grand Opening. I loved answering the phones, greeting people, and giving tours. What a thrill to see the program working, seeing people's jaw's drop as they walked in and people connecting."
Since Jackie has continued to volunteer regularly, she has witnessed the growth of the community first hand. In the early days "I would be so excited when one person would walk in that door: 'Oh my gosh we have someone here!'" Jackie said. Now on Saturdays when she watches the desk it is downright busy.
"In the early days, I'd mention I was involved with Gilda's Club to various people, they would usually say, 'What's that?' and nowadays it's not that strange for people to say 'Gilda's Club? That's great! I've heard wonderful things about that place! I've been to the Fashion Show!' or 'I've been there!' Everyone has a wonderful impression of Gilda's."
The more time that Jackie spends at Gilda's, the more she realizes that the Club translates what she always liked best about Gilda Radner -- her warmth -- into this community. "All I know is what I feel when I walk into this lovely, homelike environment. I feel embraced; it's like a family," she said.
"I didn't have Gilda's Club when I was going through my father living and dying with cancer. I know how that felt -- how strongly it touched and affected everyone around me. I believe that if Gilda's had existed back then, and I had participated, it certainly wouldn't have been easy, but I would have felt better about myself. I would have felt better about my father. I loved him tremendously and we had a great relationship but there were conflicts about the different ways we were handling him living with cancer. Even getting involved with Gilda's a year or so after my dad died, even before it opened, it helped me adapt to life without my dad, feel better about myself, and gave me a direction to point the love and energy I used to send in his direction: the old, but slightly modified 'close a window, open a door.' I would never say I am glad that my dad is gone or that he had cancer; I desperately wish I had him back, but I am very happy I found Gilda's Club. It is now part of me, part of my identity, and I have built tremendous friendships as a result. I know that for the people who walk through that red door, the quality of their lives is improved."
Today Jackie remains involved in various ways, leading the Gilda's Music Mondays group where musicians of all levels come together to play, covering the front desk, spreading the word about Gilda's, and filling in wherever she is needed.
Jackie's volunteer and donor experience has been more positive than she'd ever imagined. "It has taught me how rewarding the giving of time and money can be," she said. "My life is enriched. I get back way more than I give."
You can contact Jackie at Jackiesch@msn.com
Did You Know?
Who founded Gilda's Club?
Gilda's Club was founded in memory of Gilda Radner by her husband, Gene Wilder, her psychotherapist, Joanna Bull, and her friends.
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