By Kelly Zimmerman
My sister Robin and I, who are only thirteen months apart, grew up being treated differently than our older sister and two brothers. They grew up together playing sports. Even my sister Lori (the eldest of the Schretzman family) was a complete and utter tomboy. Robin and I were different we were definitely more girly. When it came to sports it was cheerleading. Okay, I have to include flag football; because my brother Chuck would have to remind you of the one time I played flag football which was not all that pretty.
For Robin and me, our brother Chuck was our hero. One of the main reasons is that he played football. When Chuck played High School Football at Father Judge High School, we went to every Friday night football game we could. I can still remember him playing at Veterans Stadium, and him winning the Catholic League Champion, and running on the field when they won the game, and, him giving me a huge hug.
After high school my brother went to play football for Army at West Point. My sister and I were about 14 and 15 years old when we went to our first football game at West Point and we were both just in awe. Every single time his name was called her and I would scream.
After graduating from West Point, he entered the military. Chuck just looked the part. He was 6’4”, blonde hair, crew cut. We used to tease him because he looked like the Russian fighter from Rocky IV. I know that Chuck loved the military and so did his wife, Stacy. I know it was really hard on them to be apart from their families but especially for when they were apart from each other. He was deployed five times to Afghanistan and Iraq and he was deployed to Haiti after the earthquakes. I know there were many other times when he was deployed, so they were probably apart more than together. But they will tell you that is what they signed up for. As my brother Chuck told me the other day when I told him about my new job “you are good people.” Stacy and Chuck are absolutely good people.
For Chuck the military was good to him and he was to it. I do know that it had its ups and downs. I know that he had some bad experiences in Afghanistan with 10th mountain division when he was stationed at Fort Drum which he cares not to remember.
Together and through it all they survived and raised a beautiful family. Their oldest son and daughter both graduated from West Point and their youngest daughter who is star athlete on the high school volley ball team.
I would say it was very rare for the Schretzmans to come together in the last thirty years. In the past ten years, the relationship that my sister and I had with my brother, got closer than it had been while he was stationed farther from us. He had been stationed up at West Point which was closer to us and so we got to see him more. And then to our surprise and happiness he found a job in Collegeville after retiring after serving twenty-six years on active duty. Collegeville was less than 45 minutes from where we both lived. We go to see him and his family a lot more often.
One day over a year and half ago less than a year after my brother moved to Collegeville he got a diagnosis. He just wasn’t feeling right and he knew there was something wrong. He had been feeling this way over three years ever since his deployment in Afghanistan. My brother told me that he was meeting my father for breakfast and to come join them. At breakfast he told me that he has ALS. I don’t know exactly what I was feeling but all I could think of is why him and why now. I had finally got my big brother back. My brother the strong guy, the guy who had a great life and deserved every minute of it. He served his country, he did his duty it was time for him to settle into a great job. This shouldn’t be happening. This doesn’t happen to the Schretzmans because we are invincible. I just always thought that about us.
As I am writing this but I don’t feel like I am doing justice to my brother. Here are some characteristics that you should know about my brother: loving, humble, modest, nicest guy you ever want to know, everyone loves him, he never looks down on anyone, he will say hi and shake anyone’s’ hand. I have seen people have such respect for him and it actually feels like they feel they are lucky to be in his presence.
I know that this diagnosis has pretty much destroyed him but he will never let it beat him. After the diagnosis a couple of months later at a family get together, I asked my brother when I got him alone how he was doing and he looked at me and said follow me. I could see when I looked at him that he couldn’t hold it together any longer. We walked upstairs to his bedroom and he shut the door and just completely broke down. Then a couple of weeks later, I walked out to meet my brother at the car and he had fallen on the ground and was having trouble getting up. And you could see that he wasn’t hurt but embarrassed. At the time, when I saw these things all I could think was, what is going on. These things don’t happen. This is my big brother he doesn’t cry or fall on the ground.
Since the diagnosis in 2014 we, the Schretzmans, have come together as a family. The five of us, Lori who lives in Chicago, Chuck, Will who lives in Kentucky, Robin and I and our parents, Charles and Eleanor have been in the same room together too many times than I can count. I can say that is the only blessing in this horrible disease that I can say.
In the beginning of the summer Chuck moved to Ohio and last month my parents and Robin decided to fly out to Ohio and see my brother. Since Will and Lori were close to where they live, everyone decided to get together that Sunday. I hadn’t really thought about it because I was just happy they were getting to go out there and see them. Then on the Thursday night before they get together, I was like I cannot not be there. So that Friday morning I booked a flight and when I showed up that Sunday my big brother who didn’t know I was coming he couldn’t believe his eyes. To see that, me just showing up made him happy and loved meant so much to me.
Chuck fights this disease twenty four seven. He says it just messes with his whole body. Chuck will tell you if you ask. He isn’t afraid to talk about it. He wants you to ask him how he is doing. He is fighting everyday and he is determined. He tells anyone he meets “I am the one to beat this disease.”
I don’t know what is going to happen to my brother. But I do know that he is a great man, a great husband, a great father, and was an absolute great soldier. I also know that for my sister and me, we do not like seeing how this disease is slowly taking our hero away.
This November, we Walked to Defeat ALS in honor of Chuck. You can still donate to our team or any team at www.greaterphiladelphiawalktodefeatals.org