Home-cooked effort turns into large event for pregnancy services

Every March, Rose and Bernie Wilson cook up a big brunch.
Usually the meal, for women only and in recent years numbering about 120 guests, has a St. Patrick’s theme: maybe some Irish stew in a bread bowl or a shepherd’s pie, maybe a soup with corned beef. Sometimes the foods are just green.
The couple tries to be creative each year. Menu items are rarely repeated.
“We like to cook,” Rose explains. “That’s just kind of been our thing.”
The Wilsons, both 81 and members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, have lots of helpers to send invitations, decorate, serve the food and wash the dishes. There’s entertainment and lots of socializing.
And in the end, guests are fed and happy, and thousands of dollars are raised for Omaha-based Essential Pregnancy Services (EPS) to help pregnant women in need.
This year, on March 15, the Wilsons and dozens of other volunteers hosted about 140 women at St. Robert’s J.T. Mainelli Parish Center and raised a record $12,000, said Bradley Burks, executive director of EPS. And since 2000, the brunches have raised more than $115,000, he said.
But the annual brunch does more than raise money for EPS, he said.
“Many of our clients consider abortion because they feel there is no one out there who cares about or loves them,” he said. “So many of them struggle to love themselves, resulting in the belief that there is no way they can love and support their baby.
“Rose and Bernie have helped our clients understand that there are people in this community who care about them and will never give up on them. The impact this has on the brave women who enter our doors is immeasurable.”
The Wilsons began the women’s brunch benefit in the late 1970s, when EPS benefactors were encouraged to hold fundraising get-togethers in their homes during February.
Early on, the couple chose a women’s-only brunch, and Circle 3 of St. Robert’s Ladies Guild became involved. After the couple found themselves feeding 70 people inside their house, they decided to move the event to the parish center. About that time, the date was changed to mid-March and took on the St. Patrick’s theme, Rose said.
The event continued to grow, and so did the involvement of the women’s circle, to which Rose and about 90 others belong. More than half of the women are actively involved with the brunch, through donations and volunteering, Rose said. The EPS benefit “is our big thing for the year.”
Many of the women are longtime St. Robert parishioners, like the Wilsons, who are founding members of the parish. The ladies call their group “Been There, Done That” in honor of their longevity.
Kathryn Grieb, circle leader, serves as brunch emcee. Virginia Kurzak, another circle member, sends out hand-written invitations, this year to 291 people.
EPS Auxiliary members have joined in, too, in recent years helping serve food.
Four or five men, friends and husbands of the circle members, wash dishes afterward.
The Wilsons tend to the smallest detail in preparing the brunch for their guests, using china and silverware – nothing disposable – and making the food fresh the day of the brunch, dicing tomatoes or other vegetables and fruits that morning, Grieb said.
“Of course, their faith is unbelievable,” Grieb said. “They’re a wonderful family. They have to have a great love of the Lord and people to do what they do.”
The entertainment varies, but it’s always volunteers and has included choirs from Creighton Preparatory School, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart and Marian High School in Omaha, Irish dancers and the Omaha Dancing Grannies.
The Wilsons’ daughters, Elizabeth McAndrews of St. Robert and Suzanne Walsh of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha, decorate for the brunch. A niece, Patty Wiederholt, of St. Philip Neri Parish in Omaha, makes desserts, while the Wilsons tackle the rest of the menu.
Deciding what to serve takes a while, Rose said. “We kind of pull it all together.”
Family members sample possible brunch foods, which the Wilsons test cook at home. They have six sons, in addition to their two daughters, and 24 grandchildren, and most live close enough to the couple to help with that task.
Once the final menu is decided, the meal is cooked at the parish center.
The Wilsons – both pharmacy graduates of Creighton University in Omaha and owners of the former Countryside Pharmacy – just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary. They have been involved for years at St. Robert, where their children attended the parish school.
Bernie has served on the parish council and continues to serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. He also belongs to Serra Club of Omaha.  Rose has been president of the Women’s Guild.
Rose also owned and operated an Irish gift shop for more than 25 years, retiring several years ago. Bernie continued to work part time as a pharmacist at Kohll’s, retiring this year.
They will continue to organize the brunches as long as they can, Rose said. The Wilsons also cook for and help host another EPS benefit, an auction item: dinner with Creighton men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott and his wife, Theresa.
Since 2014, the dinner has raised about $40,000, Burks said. 
“They are incredible people,” Burks said of the Wilsons. Their dedication to EPS has helped support “thousands of women and saved a countless number of lives.”
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