I had planned on writing about a different topic today, but I came across a local woman whose story just needed to be told.
I only had about five minutes to talk to Sibilla Dengs of the Art Café in New Town. I called her right before her dinner guests began arriving for a weekend rush. Not the best time to call a restaurant owner, I knew, but I really wanted to talk to her.
Dengs told me about a friend she used to have, one who lived in New Town a few years ago. She had trouble with her home and was forced to leave, and she suffered from painful rheumatoid arthritis.
I had a neighbor who recently moved who had this terrible autoimmune illness. It is painful and debilitating, and the drugs used to inhibit it don’t always work. Many RA sufferers lose hope as the illness progresses.
Dengs’ friend, Terry Frazier, committed suicide in Williamsburg on February 26, 2007.
“I just needed to do something in her memory,” says Dengs. So she called a local rheumatologist and asked if there was a patient there who was in dire straights and could use some help.
Through the doctor’s suggestion, Dengs met Rita about a year and a half ago. Rita is a single mother with 2 teenage boys. One son has RA, and the other has Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease of the intestines. Rita has both illnesses. Her RA had progressed so far she’d lost the use of her right hand.
“If there was somebody who needed help, it was Rita,” says Dengs. “She is a wonderful person, she never asks for anything or expects anything.”
Dengs chose to help by paying many of Rita’s bills – utilities, medical bills, some groceries.
She decided to do more than usual for Rita last summer, and hosted a charity luncheon to raise more money for her. “I wanted her to enjoy her summer with her kids,” says Dengs. “Her children hadn’t been to Busch Gardens, she had never been able to afford to get her hair cut in a salon – she just needed a little something for herself and her family.”
With some help from other generous retailers in New Town, the luncheon brought in $645 in less than four hours, with no advertising other than word-of-mouth and some flyers Dengs put up around the area.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a real soft spot for people who think of others before themselves. Though I didn’t have much time to get to know her, Dengs came across as not only motivated to help people, but also as the kind of person who expects that everyone around her should act the same way. I started to say what a wonderful thing it was she was doing, and she simply said, “I was just raised that way.”
There was so much more I wanted to know about the story, but Dengs had to go take care of her business.
I have often walked by her café, and wondered what it’s like there. I’ve never gone in, but now I have a good reason to.
On the first Saturday of every month, Dengs hosts “Terry’s Breakfast,” in honor of her friend. She donates every cent (after taxes) to Rita. She raises between $150 and $300 on average, and sounds like she has no intention of stopping.
I’ll be there next Saturday for breakfast. If you’d like to help, that’s the way you can do it, according to Dengs.
Want to share something or someone good to know? Desiree Parker would love to hear it. Email her at email@example.com.