MITCHELL, S.D. – Together Tona Rozum and Lou Ora Houk have been changing lives at the Abbott House for nearly 75 years. They were two of the people honored for helping children “Triumph Over Trauma” during the annual Abbott House Education and Appreciation Celebration. The Mitchell High School Volleyball team and long-time employee Linda Christensen were also recognized for their efforts in changing the lives of children in need.
Children’s Champion Award Winners
Tona Rozum is one of the recipients of the 2018 Abbott House Children’s Champion Awards. This award recognizes longtime commitment and service to Abbott House and the children served there. Rozum began serving on the Abbott House board of directors in 1972 and has been changing lives at Abbott House ever since.
When she began her work on the board, Abbott House was just acquiring a new director, Ernie Peters. Rozum has been involved in an organizational refocusing efforts, its expansion of the psychiatric residential treatment program and creation of the Bridges Therapeutic Foster Home program and the Larson Independent Living program.
In 2015 Rozum and her husband, John, won the Second Chances motorcycle drawing – which included two Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycles – and donated their prize back to the Abbott House children. The two motorcycles were raffled a second time, which generated an additional $10,000 for Abbott House children.
“Tona is someone I can call on to get an outside perspective on any issue dealing with social services,” Eric Klooz, Abbott House director, said. “Her legislative, business and financial background give her the experience to help our agency see things from a different perspective. Tona’s vision and work with the and work with the Abbott House Foundation will have an impact on South Dakota’s children for decades to come. She is a true champion for these kids”
Lou Ora Houk learned about Abbott House from her mother years ago. Houk began changing lives at the agency since she came to Dakota Wesleyan University in 1946. Houk was involved with Abbott House in different ways while a DWU student and when she started working as a nurse, she started support the children financially.
Houk and the First United Methodist Quilters in Mitchell have made hundreds of blankets to give to Abbott House children. These blankets are one of the first items children receive when they come to Abbott House and they take the blankets with them when they leave. “For many of our children, these blankets are the first item someone has ever made specifically for them,” Klooz said. “The blanket gives them a sense of safety, security and love that they never have experienced.
To insure Houk’s support will continue to change children’s lives for years to come, she made an annuity gift to Abbott House. “Now her legacy will live on in the lives of children forever,” Klooz said.
Abbott House began making special recognitions about 11 years ago after Ernie Peters, former Abbott House executive director passed away. “At that time, the staff realized we had many, many wonderful people who cared for our children and we wanted to celebrate them in tribute to the late Ernie Peters,” Klooz said.
Linda Christensen has been an Abbott House employee for more than 25 years. During that time she has held two official titles Night Staff Worker and Night Youth Supervisor. “Linda has a heart for our children. Nights can often be difficult for children when they are out of the environment they are used to, but Linda has always been there to help out in whatever way she could,” Klooz said. Christensen is most well-known for being the Abbott House Easter Bunny, Christmas Elf, and Tooth Fairy.
The Mitchell High School Volleyball team came to the Abbott House to teach the girls volleyball skills, but the experience became much more. In fact, MHS Volleyball players enjoyed their time so much after the first six weeks of lessons that they continue to come to the Abbott House and even invited the Abbott House girls to a home game to be “honorary guests.” One Abbott House girl wrote this, “Thanks for being terrific mentors and great friends. You not only taught me new skills, but you boosted my self-esteem.”
For more information about Abbott House, please contact Eric Klooz or Virginia Wishard Lambert at (605) 996-2486.