As parents, you want what is best for your child(ren). Walter Sitzwohl and his late wife Tomme, have done just that for Jennifer and Andrea, Walter’s daughters, and Chris and Jonathan, Tomme’s sons.
Walter and Tomme met in 1990, and that’s when Walter met 16-year-old Chris. “My daughters and I had an instant bond with Chris,” Walter said. “Although I didn’t adopt Chris, he’s been my son since we met. He accepted me as his dad.”
Jennifer, Andrea and Jonathan have all moved out on their own. And, recently Chris moved into an O’Fallon home that is operated by Community Living. The transition was much harder on Walter than Chris, but he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. “I have my good days and I have my bad days naturally,” Walter said. “But, I’m so grateful that Chris loves his new home. He’s at a place he feels comfortable.”
Walter and Tomme made sure Chris would be well taken care of if anything would happen to either one of them. Before she passed away, Tomme said to Walter, “Chris is going to be okay.” “All the planning we did together helped her relax her last few days and it helped me, too, knowing that she knew,” Walter said.
Chris has been a participant in the Support Services for Adults program since his graduation from Boonslick State School. “It was when the center was located off Cave Springs and it had only three rooms,” Walter said. The family also utilized the Respite Care Home.
It wasn’t until a close friend of Walter’s died of a heart attack, that Walter started thinking about Chris’ future living arrangements. “I began thinking, ‘what if I’m upstairs putting clothes away and something happens to me?,’” Walter said. “Chris would be all alone. He can’t get water, he doesn’t know how to prepare food, he wouldn’t know how to make a phone call, so all this thinking made me want to find a place Chris could live in case anything happened to me.”
He also wanted a place that he knew Chris would be well taken care of and treated with respect. “Tomme and I have always appreciated how well Community Living’s staff works to make sure the clients have a full life,” Walter said. “So, it wasn’t a hard decision to go with Community Living’s Residential program for Chris.”
As far as moving into the new house, Chris recognized staff that worked with him when he first started at the center. “It was a mini-reunion for Chris to see staff he hadn’t seen in a while,” Walter said. Today, Chris attends Clever Center, one of the four Support Services for Adults centers, located in Dardenne Prairie, which is closer to his home. The transition was easy for Chris, as his roommate, Eric, who Chris has bonded with, also attends Clever Center.
For Walter, he’s happy Chris is on his own, but he does get lonely. “My job has been to take care of Chris so it’s hard to give that up,” Walter said. “People try to tell me that now I have time for me, but I try to explain to them that’s not why I did this. I didn’t move Chris out of the house so I can go do what I want to do, I did it for Chris’ safety. I did it for Chris’ well-being, not mine.”
With all the change and transition, Walter and Chris continue a family tradition. It was a tradition that started four and a half years ago. On Thursdays, Walter picks Chris up from Clever Center and takes him out to dinner at The Three Families Restaurant, located on Mexico Road in St. Peters.
Owners, Wayne and Sara Sanders, met Walter soon after they opened in October 2012. “Walter told me about his son and how he needs his food blended,” Wayne said. “I told Walter we have a machine in the back that can turn rock into dust. A few hours later, Walter brought Chris in for dinner.”
It took Michael Hollander, Executive Chef, a few tries to get the consistency right, but now it has been perfected. “It’s great that we can do this for Chris,” Michael said. “We always try to find ways to make it work.” There are steps taken when blending either spaghetti and meatballs or pasta con broccoli, two of Chris’ favorite meals. Michael even knows how to make the creme brulee the way Chris likes it.
Walter considers the restaurant a haven for Chris and himself. “It’s a familiar place for both of us,” Walter said. “Plus, the staff bends over backwards to take care of us. They know what Chris likes and they make it just for him.”
For a night cap and to spend a little more time with his son before taking him home, Walter takes Chris to Starbucks on the corner of Mexico Road and Mid Rivers Mall Drive. “Starbucks has also been very accommodating to Chris’ needs,” Walter said. “They make the drink at a lower temperature so Chris can drink it. To me, it’s great knowing there are places in the community that do embrace the challenge of people with disabilities that need things made differently. It makes Chris feel accepted and a part of the community experience.”
Top photo: Walter pours more coffee into Chris’ cup at Starbucks. Above right photo: Chris and Walter sit at their favorite table at The Three Families Restaurant. “They are good people and have such a good heart,” Sara said.