Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Kathi's House Built On Love.

In honor of wife, Milton man builds home for Kenyan AIDS victims.

By RALPH ELLIS The Atlanta Journal-Constitution /

Published on: 12/05/07

Like many middle-aged couples, David Gruber and his wife, Kathi, talked about what to do when they retired. At the top of the list: overseas mission work.
That dream seemed lost when Kathi died of colon cancer in June at the age of 52. David, a 49-year-old north Fulton County resident, mourned and searched for a way to honor his wife's life.
Mainly, he wanted to do something Kathi-like, which friend Connie Cheren describes as "taking grief and turning it into something good."

Five months after burying his wife, David Gruber snipped a ribbon at a simple stone and cinder-block building in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Kathi's House, named after his wife, is the first dwelling constructed in a proposed complex for African orphans with AIDS and HIV.

It's a long way from Milton to Maai Mahiu, Kenya — more than 8,000 miles — and David Gruber took an unlikely route to get there.

David and Kathi met in 1982 at a nightclub in Charleston, S.C. David was a baby-faced Navy officer on a submarine that carried ballistic missiles, Kathi a good-looking divorced mother of two boys. David's buddy focused his attention on Kathi's girlfriend, leaving David and Kathi to play backgammon and talk.

"When the night was over she said, 'See ya,' " David said. "She wasn't sure she wanted to talk to me again. She thought I was too young for her."

David pursued. They married in 1984 and had two children, Courtney, 14, and Kristen, 20.
The family moved to Atlanta a decade ago as David pursued executive jobs in media. He's now a vice president for InComm, a company that produces wireless and gift cards.

Kathi concentrated on family, volunteer work at North Point Community Church and a job with the North American Mission Board.

The Grubers' home in Milton became something of a safe harbor for people at loose ends. It wasn't unusual to find a stranger living in the spare bedroom or basement.

"She was a forget-about-herself kind of person," said Leslie Simpson, who lived in their basement one summer as a college student working in Atlanta. Kathi even attended his graduation from Auburn despite being weak from bouts of chemotherapy.

Kathi empathized with outcasts because she was an orphan herself.

Born Choi Sook Hee in Korea, Kathi was placed in an orphanage by her mother at a young age. A U.S. Army Air Corps chaplain adopted Kathi when she was 3 and brought her to the United States.

When Kathi died, neither she nor David had met Connie Cheren, though they belonged to the same church. Cheren runs a nursing home consulting business, but her passion is orphans.
Cheren founded a ministry called Partners for Care that teams with churches in poor countries to improve medical care, with an emphasis on children orphaned by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Cheren was helping a Kenyan clergyman, Pastor John Njuguna Mwaniki, build an orphanage for six children infected with AIDS or HIV.

During Kathi's last months, Cheren and Kathi heard about each other through a mutual friend, but never met.

Kathi died June 5. David tried to figure out what to do next. Cheren took a chance, approached David on June 23 and described the needs of the AIDS orphans in Kenya. David instantly knew Kathi would have helped the orphans.

"It was a no-brainer," David said. "I said, 'How can we do this?' "

Gruber raised about $12,000 to build Kathi's House by helping to put on a concert in Roswell by a Kenyan musical group, Milele.

Atlanta architectural firm Gary B. Coursey and Associates agreed to design the complex and sent an employee to Kenya to look at the property. That connection came through Leslie Simpson, the former resident of the Gruber basement who works for the company.

Earlier, David McBrayer, a longtime Roswell resident who wrote and produced "Beat the Drum," a film about the African AIDS crisis, had donated film profits to the project. The money was used to purchase about five acres in Kenya, where Kathi's House was built.

Cheren envisions 10 houses, each accommodating five or six children, with a community kitchen and care center. The entire complex will be called Beat the Drum. That's what Africans do when they have good news to spread.

Gruber flew to Kenya for the dedication. He landed in Nairobi, the capital, then endured a bone-jarring, four-hour ride to the village of Maai Mahiu in the Great Rift Valley, the setting for much of "The Lion King." Gruber spent a week in Kenya and saw the face of AIDS close-up when the orphans sat in his lap.

The dedication occurred Nov. 11 with pomp and circumstance, Kenyan style.
Children, including the six infected orphans, sang and danced under a tent set up for the occasion. African clergymen preached and prayed. As a drum played, Gruber and the ministers led a procession to Kathi's House.

When Gruber cut the ribbon, the crowd cheered, but Gruber didn't feel pure elation. He kept thinking Kathi would hate being the center of attention, even for one day.

Then Gruber came home to Milton, bringing his photos and souvenirs. At the time he left, the children had not yet moved into Kathi's House. Pastor John was still waiting for water and electricity to be installed.

Cheren thinks Gruber did a noble thing.

"David really did carry out a legacy for his wife," she said. "It's hard for the average American to go into a developing country because so many things break your heart, and if you already have a broken heart. ..."

Gruber wants to keep raising awareness and money for Beat the Drum.
Closure is not what Gruber expected — or what he got.

He said he was interested in "turning the sadness into something happy for other people. I'm not sure for myself that there will ever be a day when I'm not sad. I still find myself saying, 'I need to call Kathi and tell her about this.' "

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How are the children doing? Especially the 14 year old.