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A true Vashon Christmas tale

Vashon Community Care Center resident Erna Mercer, in wheelchair, is greeted by son Kevin Mercer, behind Erna, and granddaughter Sarah Mercer at the family home on Christmas morning. Ann Murray works the controls for the wheelchair lift from inside the school bus.   - Rik Forschmiedt photo
Vashon Community Care Center resident Erna Mercer, in wheelchair, is greeted by son Kevin Mercer, behind Erna, and granddaughter Sarah Mercer at the family home on Christmas morning. Ann Murray works the controls for the wheelchair lift from inside the school bus.
— image credit: Rik Forschmiedt photo

Ernestine Mercer, 95, was expecting to go home for Christmas, and her son Kevin and his wife Sue Griffith-Mercer expected her, too.

And since Ernestine, who’s called Erna, lives at the Vashon Community Care Center (VCCC), the usual would have been for the VCCC van, with its wheelchair lift, to deliver her to the Mercers’ home in the Point Robinson area.

But the van broke down on the Friday before Christmas, and so it looked like Erna wouldn’t get to spend the holiday with her family. She can’t get in and out of a car anymore, and the van could not be repaired in time for the journey.

But no one had counted on the ingenuity of Rik Forschmiedt, who used to work at The Beachcomber and who has the attention to detail common to most reporters.

When his wife Loanne, who works at VCCC, told him about the situation, he remembered that the school district has a bus that has a wheelchair lift.

So he recommended that Leona Troese, who is the VCCC activities director, call Ann Murray, who is the school district manager of transportation (which means she’s in charge of the school bus fleet).

Troese did just that and reported that Murray said, “I just can’t bear the thought of these people not being able to go home for Christmas,” so Murray took time from her own family gathering to drive Erna to her family as well as Kim Brasier to his family at Quartermaster.

For liability reasons, the bus could not be lent to the care center.

And to top it off, Murray came back later and drove Erna and Kim back to the care center.

“It was a very kind gesture,” said Troese, “the kind of thing that reinforces your belief in the goodness of humankind. It’s a perfect example of how I wish everybody would act all the time.”

Troese said too that Christmas, it turns out, is also Murray’s birthday, and when Troese decided to go out and get a present for Murray, Murray said that she didn’t need a reward for what she had done.

“When she said that,” Troese said, “I thought, well, that’s even a better reason for her to be rewarded.”

Kevin Mercer said, “I was really blown away by the kindness of Ann Murray and Rik.”

He said his mother, who was born in South Africa in 1913, has lived on Vashon at the care center for about five years.

She used to live in West Seattle after she retired from a career in nursing.

Griffith-Mercer said, “It was really a nice thing that Erna could come. It was really great to give her a lunch and eat with us. It was really special. It was Christmas, and she knew it was Christmas. She recognizes us.”

Roberta Brasier, who is Kim Brasier’s stepmother, said of Murray, “She’s such a sweetheart. She, bless her heart, brought Kim down for brunch and took him back. We were planning to go up there to the center when we heard the van was down.”

Like Erna, Kim can’t transfer into a car anymore, said Roberta. Kim’s mother Marion Robbins called Roberta on Friday with the information that the van was down, but by Christmas Eve they had a new arrangement: Murray would drive him.

“When you are stuck up there (at the center), it’s really nice to get away,” said Roberta.

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