Evelyn Reker is the driving force behind the
Auxiliary’s “Hidden Treasures” gift shop in Anthony House. She
also creates and donates several items sold there, including the
ever-popular crocheted surgery rosaries.
Employee Turned Volunteer Offers Hope And Hugs Across The Decades
“And remember…be kinder than necessary – everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly…and leave the rest to God!”
Evelyn “Ev” Reker of South County lives by these words: for her, they represent much more than a pithy saying. For years, this retired St. Anthony’s employee and longtime volunteer has derived great satisfaction in bringing comfort to others with smiles and hugs, handmade creations and numerous kind gestures.
“I am just an ordinary person,” said Reker, 78. “Doing for others means a lot to me.”
Reker knows all too well the value of a kind heart and a helping hand. Through the years, she has transcended many life challenges of her own with the help of assorted “guardian angels.”
She was the 14th of 15 children born to a troubled home in St. Louis. Her father was an alcoholic, and she and many of her siblings traveled through a series of foster homes, some of which resulted in mental and physical abuse. Her biological mom always kept track of the children, though, and later reunited with Reker.
“My mom always showed us this picture of this guardian angel standing over these kids on a bridge,” Reker recalled. “That means so much to me.”
Angry and “pretty wild” when she left her final foster home, Reker married in her teens and had two daughters, Debbie and Diana, in short order. She soon took on two challenges, cancer and a physically abusive husband, and worked to rid herself of both.
“That was a very trying time for me,” she said. “The kids had settled me down and meant a lot to me. I didn’t want to do to them what had been done to me.”
She had reunited with her mom, Celina Louise Scharafinski, who took care of her children as she attended business school and met one of her first “guardian angels” - Mr. Raskowitz, her boss at the May department store.
“He just took time to talk to me,” she recalled. “He said I was a good person, and he wanted to help me. Years later, he came to St. Anthony’s as a patient, and I thanked him. I learned so much over the years, from so many decent people.”
In the early 1950s she began working the midnight shift at the old St. Anthony’s Hospital, Grand Boulevard and Chippewa Street, caring for infants in the nursery.
“I had my mom and two girls to take care of,” she said. “I would get my kids to St. Cecilia Catholic School, sleep some and then get them from St. Cecilia. After they were put to bed, I got the bus to St. Anthony’s. I loved working with the babies and parents. My mom was a loving person, and did a fantastic job taking care of the kids.”
In 1961 she married Joe Reker, and in 1963 the couple welcomed a third daughter, Dannette. Joe and Evelyn Reker celebrated recently their 51st wedding anniversary and the completion of Joe’s battle with cancer.
Through the years she worked a number of jobs, including St. Anthony’s Patient Accounts department and the front desk, before she retired in 2002. She’s also served as a volunteer in Pastoral Care and more recently as the driving force (and supplier of hugs) at the Auxiliary’s Hidden Treasures gift shop in Anthony House. She considers longtime St. Anthony’s volunteer Dorothy “Dot” Schillinger her guardian angel, and Schillinger is quick to return the compliment.
“She’s my right hand in the gift shop,” Schillinger said. “When she sees somebody coming in the door, she jumps up to help them.”
Since 1997, Reker also has created and given away thousands, of soft, crocheted rosaries in an array of colors that are blessed by Pastoral Care and bring comfort to patients who hold them during surgery. Joe Reker, also a volunteer, crafts little pocket guardian angel crosses from old wood.
“People need that extra little ‘oomph’ sometimes,” she explained. “If I can give somebody hope, that’s great.
“I don’t want to be mean or judgmental,” she added. “How do you know what a person is feeling or what they’re going through? You don’t.”
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