Meet Don and Liz Arth, the honorary chairpersons for the Archbishop’s Call to Share
by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OLATHE — “Just do it.”
That’s the advice of Olathe’s Prince of Peace parishioners Don and Liz Arth, honorary chairpersons for the 2009 Archbishop’s Call to Share (ACTS).
The couple said that the family has always considered its donations to church and charity to be the first payments out of its budget. The Arths recommend others do the same.
“First thing back to God,” Don explained. “You put your donation in the first thing and plan on that each month – not to see if you’re able to, but to just do it.”
A family’s anchor
It wasn’t always easy for the Arth family to “just do it.” Married 55 years ago, the couple brought up nine children on a military salary. For 30 years, Don was an Air Force pilot for heavy airplanes, at one point flying reconnaissance missions in Vietnam. Liz stayed home with the children. It’s arguable who had the tougher job.
As a military family, the Arths moved often, adding to their family at each location. Their first three children were born at McConnell Air Force Base outside Wichita. The second three were born in Great Falls, Mont.; the last three arrived while they were stationed in Bermuda.
“They always called us the big kids, middle kids and little kids,” recalled son Chris Arth, parish administrator for St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. Chris is still considered one of the “little kids,” though he has five children of his own.
The Catholic Church was always an anchor for this mobile family. Each time they moved to a new location, they joined a parish and got involved. Through their Catholic community, they were able to quickly establish friendships and support groups.
“We just thought it was normal,” said Chris. “It’s just how we were raised — living the life of being active in the church was just the norm.
“One of my earliest memories in my childhood is going to Holy Family Church in Abilene, Texas, with my dad,” he recalled. “I must have been five; and he was painting four-square lines on the school playground. So, from a very early age, I was ingrained with this idea of service to the church. And for me, it’s developed beyond just a parishioner to a profession.”
A permanent home
After Don’s retirement from the Air Force in 1980, the family settled in Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, where Don and Liz continued their spirit of charity.
“At the military bases we used to teach baptism classes,” said Don. “When we got to Prince of Peace, we did that for five years. That way we met a lot of people, especially young people, and also I think we gave a little advice on parenting.”
The core of their parenting message, said Liz, was simple.
“You can’t sit down and tell [children] anything,” she said. “You have to show them. I think if they can see what you hold dear, they pick up on that.”
The couple has lived its own counsel. For years, Don and Liz have shared an hour of eucharistic adoration each week. Don was on the parish council when Prince of Peace built its church; Liz served on the social concerns committee and as the parish coordinator for St. Mary’s Food Kitchen. It’s said she’s served more than 10,000 meals.
“Well, over the years it probably has been that many,” she admitted. “We fed an awful lot of people.”
Beyond volunteering at her church, Chris said his mother volunteered for years running the gift shop at the Olathe Medical Center and as a hospice worker.
“I also remember them sending money every month to a young man in the seminary,” he said. “I believe his father had been killed. Money is just another part of time and talent.”
It’s a part the Arths consider equally important to volunteering, though they’re reluctant to own up to their monetary giving. Instead, they talk about what they call “paying it back.”
“A thing I like to stress is that at our age now, we can give more than when we had nine kids and all,” explained Don. “We had a hard time, and somebody carried us during that period. We gave all we could, but I’m sure we didn’t give enough to pay the tuition on all our kids. And now, we kind of feel like it’s our time to give our share — to pay back.”
The Arths are quick to point out what God has given them in return for their giving.
“We feel so blessed,” said Liz, and Don agreed, recalling his military days in particular.
“When I was flying over all those years, I had so many close calls — a split second one way or the other and I would have been dead,” he said.
“I remember one time in Vietnam. I was flying over an area there. We were mid- altitude and all of a sudden a stick of bombs came down from a B-52 above us. I flew right through those bombs all around the aircraft, and none of them hit me.”
“You know somebody was praying for me,” Don concluded. “God had something else in mind, so he made them miss.”
“He wasn’t finished with you yet,” said Liz.
Their children are witnesses to the many blessings this couple has received and can attest to the generosity God has shown them in return for their charity.
“If you live a lifetime of stewardship, it all evens out,” said Chris. “My dad worked for the military — he was a government employee, essentially — and he never had a huge salary. But they had nine kids, and every one of us went to college. And they’ve had a very comfortable life.”
Humility in action
When asked why they’ve lived a life of stewardship, the Arths are matter-of-fact in their reply.
“That’s the way we were brought up,” said Don, a former altar boy and seminary stu- dent. “In my family, for instance, my mother was one of 10 children, and five of her sisters were nuns. That was just part of life, being very active in the Catholic religion.”
“It just seemed like the thing to do, to be a part of your parish and help do the work,” added Liz. “You know, somebody has to do it.”
Chris said stewardship is so integral to his parents’ life, they’re hardly aware of it.
“I was standing in the commons [at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park] one day,” he said, “and they have bricks there with donors’ names on them. And I looked up and saw my parents’ names on a brick. None of us went to school there.
“I asked my mom about it and she said, ‘Oh, yes, I completely forgot about that.’
“My parents have forgotten about more of their giving than most people have done in their lives.”
The humble attitude of this very generous couple is well illustrated by their reaction to being named this year’s honorary chairpersons of the Archbishop’s Call to Share.
“We were very surprised,” said Liz.
“I thought, ‘Have you got the right person?’” added Don.
“Mom and Dad are not big money folks,” said Chris. “They’ve been singled out for living a lifetime of stewardship. They didn’t ask for the recognition, but they’re certainly due it.”
Don summed up the rationale behind this couple’s generosity with a philosophy he borrowed from a friend, but has always followed: The only money you can take with you in the next world is what you give away to church and charities in this world.
“I think if more people could really understand that, then the church would have so much money, we wouldn’t know what to do with it,” he said.
“It’s a high honor to have this title,” he added. “We feel blessed that we’re able to do it and to allow people to see what can be done.”