David Schmitz and his fiancee, Jayne Abraham, come together for a portrait with some of their children, from left, Max Schmitz, 4, Madison Abraham, 15, and Sam Abraham, 13.
(Photo: Mary Willie, The Des Moines Register)
As Brenda Schmitz struggled with the ovarian cancer that would take her life in 2011, she prepared a gift that her family would not receive for years.
"She was so selfless," her husband, David Schmitz, said in an interview Saturday. "She knew what I was going to go through, and the kids especially."
Brenda Schmitz had always found inspiring the "Star" 102.5 Christmas Wish program that a Des Moines radio station runs each year.
"About a week and half ago we got a letter in the mail," said Scott Allen, the brand manager at the station, KSTZ "Star" 102.5 FM. "We've been doing the Christmas Wish program for 20-plus years. We've never received a wish like this, ever."
The letter was from Schmitz, written over two years ago, one month before her death. She asked an anonymous friend to wait until David, who lives in Nevada, Iowa., had found a new love to marry before delivering the letter to the station, which every year takes submissions of Christmas wishes and consults with local partners to grant some of them.
Dated Aug. 3, 2011, the letter lists three wishes.
"I have a wish for David and the boys and the woman and her family if she has kids also," she wrote. "I want them to know I love them very much and they always feel safe in a world of pain."
David and Brenda, who were married in 2007, had one son together, Max, now 4. Brenda brought one son from a previous relationship to the family, Carter, 21, and David brought two sons, Josh, 17, and Justin, 14.
Station officials told David on Thursday that they were granting a Christmas Wish for him. But he didn't know about Brenda's letter until he was in the studio and on the air - hearing host Colleen Kelly read his wife's words.
"It's not surprising," he said. "We just know she's there and that she's part of what we're doing."
The first wish: For something that would pamper David's new partner (Jayne Abraham, to whom David proposed this past summer).
"She deserves it," Brenda wrote. "Being a step-mother to all those boys, and especially giving lil' Max a 'mother's love' that only she can give. Make her smile and know her efforts are truly appreciated from me.
"Thank you - I love you - whoever you are."
David said Brenda told him before she died that she wanted him to move on and meet someone new.
She only had one request: "Just make sure they love Max and the boys as much as I do."
Abraham brings two children of her own to David's family, Madison, 15, and Sam, 13. A letter for Abraham was also in the envelope sent to the radio station.
"After she got done reading the letter from Brenda, she had the paper laying on her chest and she said, 'I just love this woman. I wish I could have met her,' " David said.
Abraham said it was a "mom to mom" letter.
"I think what touched me the most about her letter is that she told me that she loved me too," she said. "That's what was so amazing. She didn't even know who I was going to be."
Brenda's second wish was for her family.
"For the family - a magical trip," she wrote. "Somewhere where they all can enjoy their company and companionship as a family and create those memories that will be with them forever."
Allen, the radio station brand manager, said "there wasn't a dry eye in the room when we got" the letter.
A committee of 10 people typically reviews all requests for a Christmas Wish and decides whether to grant them.
"There was no question that we were going to do something for this wish," Allen said. "It was what could we do that would be deserving of Brenda's name and memory."
The final wish was for the cancer nurses and doctors in her unit at Mercy Medical Center: "A night out full of drinks, food and fun for all they do everyday for the cancer patients they encounter."
The station told David all three of Brenda's wishes will be granted, with help from sponsors.
The family of eight will fly to Disney World, with flights and accommodations paid for. Mediacom is providing all the family members with park hopper passes for four days.
Jayne will be pampered with a massage at Disney World.
And three coordinated food drops, provided by In the Bag Corporate Catering, will be provided to the oncology unit at Mercy Medical Center.
David said he is grateful that the "unsung heroes" at Mercy are being recognized.
Other contributors for the wishes are Service Legends Heating & Cooling, Grip-Tite Foundation Repair and Slumberland Furniture.
David said he hopes the story can help other people who have lost loved ones to "know someone is watching out for them, giving them guidance."
Brenda said in the letter that the Christmas wish was just one of the things she had instructed her friend - David doesn't think he'll find out who it is - to do.
"I just don't think the story is over," he said. "I'm prepared now, let's put it that way."