Woman's last gift brings joy to youth

September 16, 2021

Kids play gaga ball

By Anne Marie Cox and Maureen Kenney

Jeanine Rothermel never met Cooper Myers, but she brought joy to his life nonetheless.

Cooper, a 13-year-old from West Des Moines who is deaf, was able to attend his first Catholic Youth Camp thanks in part to sign language interpreters and an assistant funded through Rothermel’s estate.

He loved every minute of camp.

“As a parent, it brings tears to my eyes,” said Cooper’s mom, Molly, herself a former CYC counselor. “You just want your kids to have every opportunity that they can to grow and CYC is just great. Not only was it their first time away from home (Cooper went with his brother, Max) but in a loving atmosphere that puts Christ at the center. I just really wanted him to experience that.”

He was able to go to camp because of Rothermel. She was a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in Des Moines who also was profoundly hearing impaired.

Born in 1930, she learned to lip read and went to the School for Deaf after graduating from high school in Des Moines. Her lip reading skills offered her the chance to pick up secretarial skills and she worked as an administrative assistant in the insurance industry for decades.

Rothermel died in 2020. Through her estate, she left gifts to her parish, Catholic Charities. St. Vincent de Paul, St. Joseph Educational Center and the Diocese of Des Moines’ Deaf Ministry.

Her gift to Deaf Ministry paid for interpreters and assistant for Cooper. It also benefited others through a ripple effect.

 nullCampers accepted Cooper, included him and extended supportive camaraderie that reflects the Christ-like environment of CYC, said Alex Kautzky, executive director of the St. Thomas More Center, home of CYC.

Some kids asked their parents if they could learn sign language, said Molly.

And the college sophomore who provided assistance to Cooper at camp said working with the teenager was the most profound thing that’s ever happened to him.

Carson Gregory, who was studying at Loras College to be a lawyer, has changed his life’s goal.

“After working with Cooper and living with the experience that that entailed, I felt called to change my life,” he said. “I decided to transfer schools to study neuroscience and disability studies. Hopefully, one day I will work in health care with people who have a disability.”

An aid doesn’t quite describe the importance and tight-knit bond that developed between Gregory and Cooper, said Molly. They became more like “best buddies.”

The diocese’s Deaf Ministry program also allowed for Cooper to have a sign language interpreter at Vacation Bible School.

The Diocese will continue to focus on needs within the deaf community so others may benefit from Rothermel’s gift, said John Gaffney, diocesan director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

Through various estate plan options, individuals or families can leave a lasting legacy of helping others. To learn more, contact the Catholic Foundation of Southwest Iowa at 515-237-5044 or email contact@cfswia.org.