Opinion

Three Federal Way gifts that keep on giving | Nandell Palmer

Fresh from another of his mission trips to Newfoundland, Canada, Federal Way’s own Dr. Tim Riesenberger hardly had time to unpack his suitcases when he was called to go on yet another mission — Sendai, Japan.

If it were possible to take out his heart and give it to another human being, I strongly believe that he would do the honor in a split second.

I first met Riesenberger a few days before the I Celebrate You 2009 event. I extended an invitation and he attended the event. He was so moved by the essence of celebrating society’s forgotten heroes that he felt guilty for not having been tasked with anything tangible to do that evening. Laura Campbell from the Knutzen Family Theatre had a hard time fighting off Riesenberger as he tried to take away the vacuum cleaner from her while she cleaned up the lobby.

In the end, he won, as Campbell was no match for him. He was so delighted in vacuuming the rug. All he kept saying was, “Please, allow me to do this. It’s the least I can do!”

Not satisfied with only vacuuming the floor, he begged for other chores to do. That was when I realized how selfless the doctor is.

Two months after that occasion, Riesenberger was dispatched to Haiti after that country’s massive earthquake.

A board-certified emergency medicine physician trained at Stanford University, Riesenberger’s love and passion for others propelled him to obtain a master’s degree in public health at Loma Linda University. His commitment is to treat mind, body and spirit.

Altruism courses through the doctor’s bloodstream. How many grandsons do you know today in their early 30s that would have their elderly grandparents move in with them?

Riesenberger did just that some years ago. He lovingly spoke about how his grandparents took care of him as a child, and how he could not wait to return that kindness to them. His grandfather died a few years ago, but his grandmother still lives with him.

Just before he left for Japan last Thursday, we chatted by phone. I couldn’t resist asking him again for what seemed like the millionth time: “Now, really, what moves you to do what you do year in, year out?”

I can always count on getting a terse yet poignant answer. “Truly to live is to give,” he said. Not the least concerned about being exposed to radiation, all he wanted to do was help those unfortunate people.

Giving of one’s best, it seems, has no age limit or border. How can I ever not mention another of Federal Way’s celebrated givers — the benevolent and indomitable Megan Johnson, who doles out countless gifts annually to homeless men and women throughout the Puget Sound region?

The latest and youngest gift-giver I have discovered in Federal Way is Kailee Kelliher. I was floored when Jason, my youngest son, showed me an invitation for his friend Kailee’s 13th birthday party. The paragraph speaks for itself:

“In place of gifts, Kailee will be collecting food for the Federal Way Food Bank to help others. Bring as many items as you wish to donate. Please, no gifts. The food is the gift that helps out the community.”

Driving Jason to the party with his bag of food, I brought up the subject again as to why Kailee would prefer to forgo personal gifts in lieu of food for the poor. He said that she has been doing that since she was 3 years old, with no prodding from her parents.

Days after collecting the food each year, Kailee delivers the gifts in person with her parents at the food bank, snapping a few keepsake photos with the staff.

Kailee’s mom, Connie, told me that her daughter volunteers for various charities, including Toys for Tots with the Salvation Army. She rings the Salvation Army bell at Christmas, too, in downtown Seattle.

Federal Way is indeed richer for having residents like Riesenberger, Johnson and Kailee in its precinct. Am I glad to call it home!

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