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July 2022 – Hero of the Month: Zachary Fisher and Fisher House Foundation

This month, I am featuring Zachary Fisher as my hero of the month for providing the seed money and the impetus for Fisher Houses, a magnificent organization helping provide temporary housing for our military veterans and their families while visiting VA Hospitals and military hospitals around the country.

I am told that one of the very early Fischer Houses built in the United States was in fact at Naval Hospital San Diego. Fisher House SoCal under the direction of Linda Rahn is currently raising funds to refresh and refurbish their house here at the Hospital. Julie and I are delighted to donate $10,000 for the refurbishment and intend to add to that contribution later this year. There is another Fisher House adjacent to the Marine Corps Hospital at Camp Pendleton and as you will note from the summary below, there are over 85 Fisher Houses across the U.S. and in Europe.

We are also proud to report that our son Jase (SoCal Division President, Beazer Homes) ran the Las Vegas Marathon last month to help raise money for Fisher House USA and that his company, Beazer Homes, is a long-time supporter. This year Beazer presented a check to Fisher House for $1,000,000.

It is fitting that having spent most of the last 45 years of my working life with folks in all aspects of construction and all kinds of projects, first as a lawyer and now a long-time mediator, that we designate Fisher House as a recipient of our support. Zachary Fisher’s story is powerful as is the success of Fisher House as an organization. What follows is a brief summary of Zachary’s life and Fisher House’s success.

  1. Zachary Fisher

Zachary Fisher was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a bricklayer immigrant from Russia who taught his sons masonry. Fisher began working in construction at the age of 16. In 1915, he and his brothers, Martin and Larry, founded Fisher Brothers, first working as contractors building homes outside Manhattan which grew into one of the real estate industry’s largest residential and commercial developers, owning more than five million square feet of office space.

From the earliest days of his construction career, Fisher was a strong supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces. In World War II, Fisher drew on his building skills to assist the U.S. Coastal Service in the construction of coastal fortifications. His patronage of the Armed Forces became an ongoing concern from that time, evolving to occupy increasing amounts of his energies.

In the 1970s, while remaining active in Fisher Brothers, Fisher’s commitment to both the Armed Forces and other philanthropic causes intensified still further through his leadership role in a number of major projects. In 1982, Fisher established the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Services Foundation. Through the Foundation, he made significant contributions to the families of the victims of the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Since then, the Foundation has made contributions to numerous military families who have lost loved ones under tragic circumstances.

The Fisher House program was founded in 1990, after Pauline Trost, wife of Admiral Carlisle Trost, former Chief of Naval Operations, made Zachary aware of the need for housing for military families during hospitalization of a loved one.

The Fishers entered into a “public-private partnership” with the government, who allowed Fisher to build on their land, after which the home was “gifted” back to the military, to operate in perpetuity. He helped ensure that families could have “a home away from home”, enabling them to be a part of the healing process.

Among many endeavors, in 1994, Fisher, in partnership with David Rockefeller, established the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. The Foundation operates the nation’s largest and most modern Alzheimer’s research laboratory, housed at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

Along the way, Fisher received numerous commendations for his public service:

a. In 1997, one of the Navy’s new Bob Hope-class roll on roll off ships, USNS Fisher (T-AKR-301), was named for himand his wife.

b. In 1998, Fisher received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in honor of his wide-ranging contributions on behalf of the young men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.

c. In 1999, the United States Senate introduced a bill that conferred upon Fisher the status of “honorary veteran” of the Armed Forces. (Fisher had attempted to enlist in the military during World War II, but was disqualified due to a preexisting medical condition.) The bill, Public Law 106-161, was signed on December 9, 1999. Bob Hope is the only other individual to receive this honor.

d. Separately, Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, as well as Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and the late Yitzak Rabin, recognized Fisher for his support of charitable organizations at home and abroad.

2. Fisher House USA

In 1991, the first Fisher House was opened, at the National Naval Medical Center (Walter Reed Military Medical Center) in Bethesda, Maryland. President and Mrs. Bush joined Zachary Fisher, and his wife Elizabeth, to dedicate the house.

Zach and Elizabeth continued to use their own money to build additional homes until his death in 1999. Today, there are also Fisher Houses in Germany and the UK (in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity and Help for Heroes to open accommodations for patients at the Royal Centre for Defense Medicine).

Fisher House Foundation also operates the Hero Miles program, using donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members as well as the Hotels for Heroes program using donated hotel points to allow family members to stay at hotels near medical centers without charge. The Foundation also manages a grant program that supports other charities and scholarship funds for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans. Since inception, the program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $547 million in out-of-pocket costs for lodging and transportation.

Fisher Houses have up to 21 suites, with private bedrooms and baths. Families share a common kitchen, laundry facilities, a warm dining room, and an inviting living room. The average stay of a family at the centers is nine days, but the longest stay is three years.

I have included a video about an Iraqi War Veteran, Ellie Marks, who tells her own story of what Fisher House meant to her. It is worth your time. She is an extraordinary person.

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