“The Fisher Houses are a home away from home for military family members, whether they are active duty or retired,” said Fisher House Manager Ken Merritt. “It provides a community style of living for family members who have loved ones in the hospitals or medical centers so they don’t have to worry about the burden of finding and financing a place to stay. One of the mottos for the foundation is ‘Family Love is Good Medicine too.’”
The Navy and Marine Corps Fisher Houses are built on the grounds of military and Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals by the Fisher House Foundation which was founded by Zachary Fisher and his wife, Elizabeth.
“Mr. Zachary Fisher was an incredible human being and philanthropist,” said Merritt. “He’s someone who wanted to join the military in the World War II timeframe, but was found unfit for duty due to a leg injury that he sustained in his earlier years as a construction worker.
“This didn’t stop his determination. He continued his life in the construction industry, but always made a point to visit military installations and military hospitals where he could see the needs of family members.”
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Fisher began working in construction when he was 16 years old and, along with his brothers, formed Fisher Brothers. The company grew to be one of the premier residential and commercial developers in the real estate industry.
In their later years, the Fishers dedicated more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel.
“Today, the Fisher House Foundation has many homes across the country and worldwide in locations such as Germany, Alaska, Hawaii and all throughout the States on military and VA installations,” said Merritt. “With our newest house being dedicated this month, we are now up to 61 houses total. Bethesda has the great distinction of having the very first Fisher House (and therefore also the first) on a Department of Defense installation.”
Fisher House 1 is originally an eight-bedroom house, but later the design was changed to a 20-bedroom home in order to meet an increased need, said Merritt. Combined with the other four Fisher Houses at Bethesda, this represents the largest Fisher House complex on a military base today, said Merritt.
In his later years, Zachary Fisher received many awards and recognitions for his contributions to the military and other charitable causes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other top awards that a civilian can receive from each branch of the military.
“One of the highest recognitions that Mr. Fisher received was the presidential civilian medal and he was made an honorary veteran of the Armed Forces, with full rights and privileges because of all that he has done for the military,” said Merritt. “Bob Hope is the only other individual who has been given this honor.”
Today, his nephew, Kenneth Fisher, continues the family legacy as Chairman of the Fisher House Foundation by running the business and continuing to expand the family’s vision and dream, said Merritt.
Here at Bethesda, the five Fisher Houses allow for 73 families to be hosted at once. Since they were built, these houses have made a difference in the lives of approximately 7,550 families, said Merritt.
James Mallonee, a Soldier who received care at Walter Reed while staying at Fisher House Bethesda, shared a part of his story.
“After I was diagnosed with leukemia while deployed to Kandahar, I was medically evacuated to Walter Reed Bethesda in late April. Fisher House provided a place for my wife to stay while I was undergoing treatment and recovering from the bone marrow transplant. Without the Fisher House, I’m not sure we would have been able to handle it all. The Fisher House took a lot of pressure off of us. It has been such a blessing.”
The Fisher House Bethesda staff consists of a manager, assistant manager, two program support assistants and an incredible housekeeping team, said Merritt.
“All of the staff members here are people who would do this job for no pay. They just want to be able to give back to service members and their families,” said Merritt, who served in the Army for 29 years and retired (at Walter Reed Army Medical Center) as a master sergeant. “It’s something that we truly believe in, and we want to give 150 percent to the families who are staying here.”
To be eligible to stay at a Fisher House, there are a few requirements. A patient must be an inpatient at the time of the family’s check-in, their family must have traveled from at least 40 miles away, the patient’s condition must be serious in nature, and they must request that their family be by their side, said Merritt. They can put in a referral through their social worker. If the Fisher House has room available, they can then bring them in to stay as long as they need, he added.
For more information about the houses, please contact the Fisher House Bethesda directly. Anyone interested in supporting the Fisher Houses by volunteering can contact the Red Cross at Walter Reed Bethesda.
“Everyone I talk to can’t say enough about what the Fisher House has done for them,” said Merritt.