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Toy donations pay tribute to father's spirit

December 24, 2003|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

Christmas celebrations will be subdued this year for the Fields family.

This year, the family will get together for dinner and a gift exchange, but it won't be the same, the women said. Their father, K Donald Fields, who taught them the value of tradition and giving, won't be there.

K Donald Fields, 69, the father of four adult children, was killed on Oct. 9 when his Jeep collided with a pickup truck pulling a trailer on Warm Spring Road near Chambersburg. His girlfriend of 11 years, Mary Maxine Urich, died a few hours later of injuries from the accident.

Fields and Urich were returning home from Mercersburg, Pa., where their new home had just been delivered and was scheduled to be put together that weekend.

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The Urich and Fields families held a double viewing and funeral. Fields' children - Kevin Fields of Hurricane, W.Va., Kimberly Fields-Appleby and Keah Fields-Appleby, both of Chambersburg; and Kori Miller of Mercersburg, Pa. - decided to have memorial donations sent to the Chambersburg Toy Mission, which distributes toys to needy children during the Christmas season.

"But people kept calling and asking what they could do," Keah Fields-Appleby said. She told them to bring a small, new toy to the funeral. On that day, she estimated, about $400 in new toys surrounded the caskets, along with bouquets of flowers.

"There were Barbies, Matchbox cars, Slinkies - toys for kids of all ages," Keah Fields-Appleby said.

She said that outpouring gave her family a sense of their father's spirit during the funeral. "Flowers die within a week. Kids will cherish these toys forever," she said.

Shirley Howard, treasurer of the Toy Mission, said the new toys and monetary donations made a difference. "It was the first time anyone did that - have toys donated in lieu of flowers," she said.

"We usually get used toys, but we prefer new. We wash and refurbish used toys, but it makes us feel better to pick out something new for a child's gift," Howard said.

Howard said 790 children in 321 families received gifts from the Toy Mission this year.

"It has helped us pull though this, knowing we've helped other kids," Keah Fields-Appleby said. "Dad truly taught us the meaning of Christmas - family and Christ."

She said her father was a loving, caring man who often helped an older neighbor or a friend fix a furnace, clear snow or start a car.

Fields had retired after 35 years at Hempt Brothers Inc. of Camp Hill, Pa., where he was a master mechanic. His health was good, and he and Urich were starting to travel.

But caring for others always came first, his family said.

"He gave anonymously," Kimberly Fields-Appleby said. "If he heard of a (needy) family, he'd help them out."

"He knew how expensive it was to raise a family," Keah Fields-Appleby added.

Their mother, Shirley Fields, died in 1991 of a brain aneurysm.

Fields was close to his grandchildren and enjoyed sports events, school luncheons, concerts and weekly family nights with them, the siblings said.

Kimberly Fields-Appleby said Fields "lived simply, enjoyed his family and loved to give."

And he loved Christmas. Fields kept his lighted, artificial Christmas tree up all year, and placed 25 Christmas stockings on the bannister in December.

He gave gifts and stockings to 20 to 25 people every year, Keah Fields-Appleby said. "If we had friends who had no family to go to on Christmas, he'd say, 'Have them come over,' and he'd have gifts and a stocking for them."

"Santa's gone," Phil Stoltzfus, Keah Fields-Appleby's companion, said. "It wasn't the gifts, it was him, himself."

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