Every Thursday night at Rejoice Lutheran Church in Omaha, more than 150 adults with special needs and disabilities gather with volunteers to eat, play games, pray and make friends through a program called Spirit Matters.
Don and Jona Simonson have been volunteering with Spirit Matters since it first became a ministry at Rejoice 18 years ago. Only about a dozen people were coming then.
Don enjoys the program because the participants “become friends with each other,” he said. “If you don’t feel God in that room, there’s something wrong.”
Don and Jona said they have always leaned on their faith, and it was no different five years ago when they lost their 49-year-old daughter, Chantell Simonson, to breast cancer. They now designate donations to Goodfellows, The World-Herald’s charity, to her memory.
“She was a funny girl,” Jona said. “We really miss her during the holidays.”
Chantell would come to the house early on Christmas with her Zinfandel or “cheap white gin” and talk with Jona as she made the Christmas meal.
The first year after Chantell died, the family bought a bottle of the same gin in her memory, but it was so bad that “nobody could drink it,” Jona said, giggling.
So they started the Goodfellows tradition. They had been donating to the charity before Chantell died, and they felt it was a good way to remember her.
The couple likes that Goodfellows “helps so many different people,” and that the World-Herald doesn’t charge any administrative fees for the donations.
“The cancer was hard,” Jona said. “But a lot of people have gone through it, the same as us.”
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In 1938, Omahans created “Mile o’ Dimes” to raise funds for The World-Herald’s Goodfellows charity. Board members behind the effort are pictured here.
Ray Messler on Dec. 15, 1938.
Goodfellows donors Burdock Fredericton and Brownie Walters made up the Cornhusker Orchestra in 1939.
Betty Litman and Ed Reinhardt on Dec. 1, 1941. Rotary Cleaners had a "Good Fellows" kitty for whenever an employee lost his temper and said something he shouldn't.
Officers of the Foreign Wars contribute to the “Mile o’ Dimes” for The World-Herald’s Goodfellows charity as “Miss Goodfellows” looks on.
Children gather to sing carols for the Goodfellows fund in 1944.
Bill looks at pictures of toys in a catalog.
Members of Beta Sigma Phi, a non-academic sorority, donate to Goodfellows in 1945.
Bill, pictured here in 1945, is a beneficiary of The World-Herald's Goodfellows charity.
On Dec. 7, 1947, two boys look forward to Santa's arrival.
Members of the Omaha Knights hockey team donate to The World-Herald’s Goodfellows fund in 1948. The charity started in the late 1880s and has raised more than $16 million since record-keeping began in 1945.
Gloria and Alfred write a letter to Santa Claus on Dec. 21, 1950.
Linda waits for Santa Claus on Dec. 3, 1951.
A Goodfellows Christmas card from Nov. 14, 1952.
Kenneth and his little sister look at toy ads.
Mary meets Santa Claus on Dec. 7, 1958.
Employees at the South Omaha Post Office urge people to donate to Goodfellows in 1962. From left, they are are John Cupich, Ray Meloccaro and Postmaster John Munnelly.
Restaurateurs Ross Nisi and Eli Caniglia, with two young friends, celebrate a donation to Goodfellows in 1963. The gift was from The Strip Association, a trade group made up of people who ran restaurants on 72nd Street from Dodge to Center Streets.
Pinky, a Nebraska Kennel Club champion, delivers the club’s $200 donation to Goodfellows in 1964.
Mrs. Max Sacks and Mrs. Mike Montello from The World-Herald's Goodfellows charity fill a bag held by Mike Montello, Sokol Lanes manager, dressed as Santa, on Christmas Day, 1966.
World-Herald employee Tim Daughtery accepts donations from James Wightman, Alan Johnson and Michael Henderson from the Gene Eppley Boys Club on Dec. 20, 1967.
From left, Mrs. David Brown, Mrs. Francis Walker and Mrs. Donald Rose, a brigadier and director of Women's Services for the Salvation Army, celebrate the opening of the Salvation Army and the World-Herald Good Fellows Toy Shop. Each day until Christmas, parents of needy families may select gifts for their children. Parents coming to the shop at 1561 Capitol Ave. must demonstrate need. Photo from an edition of The World-Herald on Dec. 21, 1972.
Jermaine, pictured here on Nov. 24, 1982, is one of the beneficiaries of The World-Herald's Goodfellows organization.