In 1913, a Lutheran minister in Axtell, Neb., visited parishioners in public asylums, and he was appalled.
Those members of his flock with intellectual disabilities were “battered and beaten until bloody ... in narrow dirty cells,” the Rev. K.G. William Dahl wrote in a church newsletter. “I have heard their heartrending prayer, 'Help us to get away from here.'”
Dahl answered that plea as the founder of Bethphage, a Christian home in Axtell, for people with mental and physical challenges.
He would live only four more years, dying at age 34.
But Bethphage lives today as Mosaic, its name since merging with Martin Luther Homes in 2003. It now offers services in 10 states and has partner programs in Romania and Tanzania.
Perhaps no one is more grateful for Mosaic than Omahans Paul and Judy Tamisiea, whose daughter, Ann Marie, has lived on its Axtell campus for 32 years.
When Mosaic officials asked Judy Tamisiea if she would be the general chairwoman for tonight's 100th anniversary gala, she couldn't refuse, even though experience told her that planning such a large celebration was a lot of work. She's a longtime community volunteer and retired development director for the Archdiocese of Omaha. She also worked for a time in development for Mosaic.
“I want them to continue to be a success,” she said. “I feel like Mosaic is kind of a hidden organization. I'd like people to know about the services they provide.”
She said those services have given Annie, now 50, a wonderful, full life.
Annie was the couple's first child. They were young — Paul had begun practicing as a dentist in a small Iowa town — and they didn't realize anything was wrong at first. Soon, though, it became apparent that she had physical and mental disabilities, though physicians never gave her issues a name. She had tests at the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska.
She's deaf, blind in one eye and legally blind in the other and never has spoken a word.
The Tamisieas kept her at home for a while, but it was difficult: She got frustrated and lashed out, perhaps because she couldn't communicate. She liked to hide in her home where she couldn't be found, and she also wandered outdoors sometimes because she didn't know where she was.
Eventually, she moved to a group home in Omaha and came home on weekends so her three brothers and two sisters could get to know her.
But the Tamisieas knew they eventually wanted her to live in Axtell. They'd heard about the Bethphage campus when she was 2 years old, and a visit there sealed the deal. When Annie was 18, it was time.
It was tough at first. Judy said she was devastated to see her go. For her part, Annie had a suitcase at hand whenever her parents came to visit. She eventually settled in, however, and began to thrive.
She lives in a house with several other women. She has jobs folding clothes in the laundry and crushing cans for recycling. She loves coffee and knows the location of campus pop machines. Staff members — some of whom have been at Mosaic for many years — take the women on outings to the pizza joint, the mall, the hair salon.
They've also continued to teach Annie such things as grooming, behavior modification and sign language. The Tamisieas say she's a milder person now.
“The people who work with her are very dedicated,” Judy said. “We think they're the angels of the world.”
For 32 years, the Tamisieas have visited Annie nearly every three months. They take her to dinner and to the mall or Walmart in Kearney, the closest big city. Many times, people who have worked at Mosaic or have met Annie elsewhere will greet her by name when she's out and about.
To her parents, that's a sign she's where she belongs.
Over the years, Bethphage and the Martin Luther Homes expanded across the country. Bethphage moved its corporate offices to Omaha before the merger, and the organization has group homes here as well.
But as nice as it would be to move Annie closer, the Tamisieas say Axtell is her home.
“It would be a disservice for us to move her,” Judy said. “It would be more for us than for her.”
She's coming for a visit, though, to attend the gala with her parents and her two sisters.
Judy says the event, at the Mutual of Omaha Dome, is more a celebration than a fundraiser, an opportunity to pay tribute to the organization that made such a big difference in thousands of lives.
“It's a time to be thankful,” she said.