A campaign has begun to establish the first Fisher House in Louisiana, on the site of the New Orleans VA Hospital.
Fisher Houses are places where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving medical treatment. Since the program began in 1990, over 80 houses have been constructed around the country, serving almost 370,000 families.
The Fisher House Foundation was founded by Jewish real estate developer and philanthropist Zachary Fisher, who died in 1999.
Born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the son of a bricklayer immigrant from Russia, Fisher began working in construction at the age of 16. Shortly thereafter, he and his brothers Martin and Larry formed Fisher Brothers, which has grown into an industry-leading residential and commercial real estate development firm.
From the earliest days of his construction career, Fisher was a strong supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces. Although prevented from active service in World War II due to a leg injury, he drew on his building skills initially to assist the U.S. Coastal Service in the construction of coastal fortifications. Eventually, his efforts on behalf of the war effort and the armed forces became a primary focus.
In 1978, he founded the Intrepid Museum Foundation to save the historic and battle-scarred aircraft carrier USS Intrepid from the scrap yard. Four years of his direct involvement with the Foundation resulted in the opening of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City, which is now the world’s largest naval museum.
The Fishers began the Fisher House program after Pauline Trost, the wife of then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle Trost, outlined a need for temporary lodging facilities for the families of hospitalized military personnel. During this time, veterans and service members’ families were sleeping in their cars near their loved ones during treatment as lodging was either unavailable or unaffordable to them.
After contributing $20 million to construction of comfort homes, the Foundation was established to partner with local non-profits to build more houses.
Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation, recently announced that ground will be broken in late 2019 for the first Fisher House in Louisiana. The flagship New Orleans VA Hospital was approved for the house by the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration and the Fisher House Foundation. It will be sited at the entrance to the VA Hospital on South Galvez Street.
The planned Fisher House of Southern Louisiana will be approximately 14,000 square feet, with 16 suites and shared eating, cooking and communal spaces. On March 21, Governor John Bel Edwards unveiled the design for the house.
Friends of the Fisher House of Southern Louisiana was formed to raise the money from the region needed to match the Fisher House Foundation’s grant of $3.25 million toward building the house, and Brian Hennessy is president of the local group. The Fisher House Foundation will manage the construction of the house, and once construction is complete, the house will be given to the Veterans Administration to be operated, maintained and staffed.
Marjorie Kraus, a board member for Friends of Fisher House, urges members of the Jewish community to participate, whether to honor a Jewish veteran or active duty member, or in honor of the American soldiers who liberated the concentration camps. “Many in our community have told me that their generation would not have been born without the efforts of American soldiers who saved their parents’ lives,” she said.
In the region, Fisher Houses are already located at Eglin Air Force Hospital in the Florida panhandle, and Keesler Medical Center in Mississippi.
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