In life and in death, Toledoan Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon serves othersWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Between a busy career at Libbey Glass and frequent chemotherapy treatments, Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon made time to love everyone.
She made time to grant wishes for sick children enrolled in the Make-A-Wish Foundation program. She made time to counsel women battling breast cancer. She made time to raise her daughter Lily, devote full attention to her friends in need and, of course, dress fashionably.
She set aside so much time for these things that she was always late.
“My wife was late to everything but I don’t know anybody that really got upset with her for being late. The reason she was late was because she was with another person and was giving them her total attention and when you were with her you were the center of her world,” said her husband, Phil Skeldon. “I think that’s what made her a success in every aspect of her life.”
When cancer claimed Gotthart Skeldon in 2010, her friends immediately knew they wanted to carry on her work. They created a fund to support area agencies that aid children with disabilities and illnesses and women who have breast cancer. Within the year, they had planned their biggest fundraiser and, naturally, decided to title the event “Fashionably Late.”
“She never wasted a minute,” said longtime friend Gretchen DeBacker. “She found out she was sick back in 1993 and I think that somewhere inside she believed that her time was going to be short, so she used every possible minute that she could and most of it was in the service of helping other people.”
And she’d also spend some of those minutes dancing. As a tribute to her fun-loving attitude, Fashionably Late offers a night of music and dancing to raise money for the Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon Fund.
The Homewreckers and Air Margaritaville will rock Centennial Terrace in Sylvania on Aug. 24 for the fundraiser, marking the third year that Toledoans have come together to remember Gotthart Skeldon and donate to local organizations.
The Fashionably Late fundraiser is the biggest moneymaker for the fund, collecting about $30,000 at last year’s event and contributing to the pool of $90,000 given to area agencies within the past three years.
Major beneficiaries include Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio, the Toledo Ballet, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sunshine, a respite center for children with disabilities.
The fund focuses on organizations such as these because of Gotthart Skeldon’s legacy. She grew up in Toledo, attending Central Catholic High School and then University of Toledo. She graduated with a business degree and landed a job working with Libbey Glass. She worked her way into a national sales manager position and was designated the sales leader of the year six times throughout her career, including the year before she died.
“Through all of this — through chemo treatment after chemo treatment and hair falling out … outside of her chemo treatment, I don’t think she ever missed a day of work,” Skeldon said. “And it was never about selling a product. It was about meeting people and having fun with people and if the product sold, so be it.”
When she wasn’t on the clock, Gotthart Skeldon was volunteering. She was a wish granter for Make-A-Wish Foundation, meaning she would orchestrate a family’s trip to Disney World, and she also worked with Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio supporting women with breast cancer. She sang in her church choir for 25 years at Blessed Sacrament and was known for throwing fabulous baby and wedding showers, DeBacker said.
Gotthart Skeldon battled cancer on and off for years, beating the disease into remission a few times. She died in February of 2010 when the disease metastasized to her liver, DeBacker said.
“She always said, ‘I don’t want the disease to define me; I want to be known as Gretchen not a person with cancer,’” Skeldon said. “Even during all this bout with cancer, I could never be down, because she was never down. She even cheered up the doctors.”
Skeldon met his wife at a Bible study group at Corpus Christi University Parish in 2000 and they married a few years later when Gotthart Skeldon was 39 years old. Although doctors had told her that her years of cancer treatment would preclude her from having children, Gotthart Skeldon and her husband were able to have a baby. Their child, Lily, is now 7 years old.
“She was just a very kind person and, you know, some people talk about people who have died in that way and everyone has good qualities and misses people after they die, but Gretchen was special in the way she impacted the lives of the people she interacted with,” DeBacker said. “And when you were in her presence, that was it.”
Since Gotthart Skeldon’s death, the fund has supported a number of programs at local agencies. This year, Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio started a program funded by the Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon Fund that offers up to $400 to uninsured or underinsured breast cancer patients to pay for daily life expenses, such as transportation, food, rent or utilities, said Mary Westphal, executive director of Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio.
Starting in 2011, the fund also allowed Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio to provide 13 screening mammograms, 15 diagnostic mammograms, 24 computer-aided detections and five breast ultrasounds to 21 uninsured women between the ages of 18 and 39.
Twenty-eight uninsured women between 40 and 44 were also able to obtain mammograms and ultrasounds.
“[Gretchen] was a woman full of life and energy,” Westphal said. “She was magical when she walked in the room — you just felt happy.”
The Toledo Ballet facilitates an adaptive dance program for children with Down syndrome, also funded in part by the Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon Fund. Developed at the Boston Ballet in partnership with the Boston Children’s Hospital, the program teaches balance, flexibility and following directions. The fund awarded scholarships to children interested in enrolling, said Mari Davies, executive director at the Toledo Ballet.
Fashionably Late will begin at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 and run until midnight. Tickets cost $20 each. For more information, call (419) 537-9956 or visit www.gretchenfund.org.
“Gretchen was a very faith-filled person … I think people really felt the presence of God in her and spiritually it boosted their lives,” Skeldon said. “People came away feeling much more positive about life after they met Gretchen.”
Tags: Air Margaritaville, Fashionably Late, Gretchen DeBacker, Gretchen Gotthart Skeldon, he Homewreckers, libbey glass, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Sunshine, Susan G. Komen of Northwest Ohio, Toledo Ballet