Despite a life-threatening illness and daily bouts of radiation treatment, Linda Tillman, has not forgotten the two most important things in her life-family and giving.
Right on time on Saturday and regardless of the beginning snow fall, Tillman, her grandson Isaac Fischer, and other family members carried bag after bag of Christmas gifts for needy families into Catholic Social Services.
“It’s just about caring,” said Linda. She has no idea how much she spends, but says that she is a good shopper.
“Every time we see a Salvation Army kettle, we put in at least a dollar,” said Fischer. “Sometimes on the way in and out.”
Linda and Isaac, who is a sixth grader at Ellinwood Grade School, collect toys and gifts all year, remembering the gift wrap as well. CSC screens and then chooses the families that will receive the gifts.
Linda, who now lives in Pratt, was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer last summer. She has completed chemotherapy and travels to Wichita five days per week for radiation, although she will have Christmas and New Year’s Day off.
While Linda moved to Pratt from Ellinwood, the two have maintained a very close relationship. They plan each year to go to the nursing home where Isaac distributes candy canes to all of the residents and wishes them a Merry Christmas. This tradition began when Isaac was little.
“He’s a wonderful boy,” said Linda. Isaac wears pink rubber bands on his braces in support of breast cancer awareness. The two both say they are best friends.
“He’s my heart,” Linda said. “This is something I can give to him.”
Linda drove the school bus for the Ellinwood School District for 10 years until she retired in the mid-2000s. She taught her student riders about giving as well and had the kids donate food for the food bank.
“It’s important that kids know that feeling of giving things,” said Tillman. “It’s for us, too, and it begins right here. Pay it forward.”
Isaac has learned the lessons well and plans to keep the giving tradition when he becomes an adult.
“She just has a golden heart,” said Tillman’s daughter, Annie Sanchez. “I just think she is the strongest and most beautiful person I know. She’s a pillar of the community and gives to everyone.”
Sanchez says that Linda donates to churches and has taken women coming out of recovery who have no place to go into her home. “She always raised us to care about people.”
“I’m nothing special,” said Linda. “It’s the joy I see in Isaac’s face that is the thanks I get.”