The Minten Sisters

The Minten Sisters
Dorothy, Janie, and Esther visiting with Santa at his house (Santa Claus House) in North Pole, Alaska on July 15, 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Driscoll Children's Hospital Contribution for 2016 Christmas Season

Richard Harris , Esther, Janie, Dorothy Minten, Martha Avery, and John Hyde

Wednesday, July 26, 2017, was a special day as we had lunch in Corpus Christi with members of the Driscoll Foundation to present them with the contributions that we raised during the past Christmas season.  Martha Avery, Vice-President for Development, Richard Harris, the Children's Miracle Network Administrator, and John Hyde, the Director of Major Gifts attended the luncheon. Janice Bailey, who is Administrative Assistant in the Development Department was also there, but she graciously was the photographer.

We opened for the season on September 24, 2016, and actually did the last tour of the season on June 4, 2017. The tours in the latter part of April and May were few and far between, as the season was officially over. The last tour we did on June 4, was for a group of cousins who were in Rockport where we all attended our Minten Family Reunion.

The total amount raised and presented to Driscoll Children's Hospital for this past season was $14,420.00. This amount will be added to the Dorothy, Esther, and Janie Minten Endowment for Cardiology that was established in memory of Dr. James W. Simpson, long time head of cardiology at Driscoll Children's Hospital and founder of The Children's Heart Institute of South Texas. All of the funds that we raise through our Christmas House are used to help children in South Texas who have heart problems. This brings the grand total of funds raised during the years to $337,325.00. That averages out to nearly $10,000.00 a year since we started raising this money to help children with heart problems.

The money we raise at The Christmas House is dedicated to the memory of two special people. One is an aunt we never knew. Her name was Margarett (pronounced Marguerite) Elizabeth Howard, who died as the result of a heart condition in 1918 when she was just 14 years old. Our mother was 13 when she lost her beloved big sister, and while she knew that she had heart problems, she never knew the diagnosis. In 2006, eleven years after our mother's death, we visited the Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa, Iowa where we were able to see Margarett's death certificate that is filed there. It simply stated that the cause of her death was Mitral Valve Prolapse! They were able to diagnose the condition, but in those days, they could do nothing for it. Mother always said that "they just tried to make her comfortable towards the end." How sad, but Praise God that children aren't given a death sentence with a diagnosis like that anymore!! In fact, that diagnosis is very rare today.

The other young girl whose memory we honor is Shelley Siemonsma who was our first cousin twice removed--her paternal grandmother was our first cousin on our dad's side of the family! Shelley was born with a serious heart defect in 1980, and should not have lived more than two years. However, thanks to Dr. James Simpson and Driscoll Children's Hospital, she lived to be 18. Even though she passed away in 1998, everyone in the family still misses her and her wonderful attitude towards life. 
She was an inspiration to everyone who knew her!

The total amount that we raise each year is from several different sources related to the tours we conduct through The Christmas House.

1.) We give $1.00 out of each paid admission fee.

2.) The three of us personally give $2.00 (we share that amount) for each non-paying guest. (Non-paying guests include our family, our friends, La Gloria School children and staff, and paying guests who return for a subsequent tour(s) during the same season.)

3.) In addition to this, we each make our own personal annual donation to DCH which is included in the total.

4.)Many of our family and friends make donations to Driscoll Children's Hospital in lieu of the admission fee. (We don't ask them to do this, but certainly will never refuse a donation.) Sometimes we'll get a check in the mail made out to DCH from someone (family, friend, or even a past guest) just because they didn't get to come see The Christmas House during the current season!

5.) The Organ Fund, started as a joke by a guest in January of 1993, has proven to be the most fun! Guests who return each year always have their donation ready to put on the antique pump organ. (If you scroll down the blog, there is a post that tells how it got started.) Many who come for the first time follow suit and add a donation along with everyone else's. The Organ Fund does give Janie an opportunity to share with our guests about Driscoll Children's Hospital and all that they do for the children of South Texas. The Organ Fund total for this past season was $6,900.13. That is an all time record since it started in 1993. It brings the grand total for the organ fund to $84,999.20.

We would like to once again thank everyone who made this possible. If all you did was attend a tour of the Christmas House as a paying guest, then $1.00 of your admission fee went to DCH. If you were a non-paying guest, you made a $2.00 donation from us possible. Perhaps while you were touring the house, you left a donation on the antique pump organ.Your visit to The Christmas House made all of this possible! We couldn't have done it without you!  We also thank our family and friends who made donations above and beyond what you needed to do! 

There is a special group that we must thank. These are the children and staff of La Gloria School ISD which is the community school that our grandfather Minten (a Dutch immigrant recently moved to Texas from Iowa in 1907) helped start in 1909. He was one of the first three board members. Our dad attended school there, his younger sister and all of our cousins went to school there. The three of us attended First through Eighth grades there, and Dorothy and Esther taught there for over 30 years each! Many of the children who attend school there today are the grandchildren of kids that Dorothy and Esther taught. Some of them are the great and great-great grandchildren of former students and even those with whom D and E went to school in the 30's and 40's. So, they are like family to us.

Each season, we invite everyone at the school to come see The Christmas House. We sit down with Superintendent David Braswell and work out a schedule for each class to come see us on a different day. This past season, we hosted over 120 children (Pre-K through 6th grades) and staff members. One of the things the kids look forward to most during the tour is putting their donations on the antique pump organ! And believe us when we tell you, they make really good contributions! So, thank you to these children, their parents who make sure they have their donations, and their teachers who encourage and remind them and then give their own donations to DCH!

And of course, we wouldn't do this if we didn't believe in all the work they do at Driscoll Children's Hospital for the children who live in 31 counties of South Texas. They have touched the lives of so many children and their families, and while we have no children of our own, we are grateful!


When and Why We Started Raising Money for Children's Heart Care

In 1976, our family (Mom, Dad, and the three of us) decided to take our love of Christmas to a new level. We had always decorated our home and collected Christmas decorations! In '76, Dorothy and Esther had gone on a summer vacation to Atlanta, and while in that area, they visited Gatlinburg, TN. I was working in Premont, so was not able to travel with them in those days. However, I always made sure I was home when they were going to call. (No cell phones, text messages, Facebook, etc., in those days! Long distance calls were expensive, so we more or less scheduled them once a week.) A call came in, and they were so excited!! "You'll never guess what we found today in Gatlinburg!!" Well, they were right! Never in our wildest imaginations could we guess what they'd found. "We found a store where they sell nothing but Christmas decorations all year long!!!"

What? Christmas decorations in the summer??? We were fascinated at such a concept for a retail business! I think that was the first time that UPS ever made a delivery to our home. And what a delivery!! There were boxes of themed ornaments, that along with our old decorations would make it possible to decorate every room in what was then our 15 year-old ranch style home.

We decorated at Thanksgiving, and then planned an open house for December. That open house, attended by about 100 of our lady friends, was expanded the next year to two open houses and families were invited. Each year we added to our collections of Christmas decorations, to the point that we could do new themes that were different from the year before!! Several years later we were having six open houses and several parties and luncheons for friends and family that totaled over 600 people during the Christmas Holidays.

It was in 1982, that our family decided that we should benefit a charity by giving a donation related to our open houses and parties. We put in our invitations that year that for each person who attended a Christmas gathering at our home, we would, as a family, donate $2.00. Since we had been hosting 600 people for the past couple of years, we thought a $1,200.00 donation would be nice. We chose The Children's Heart Institute in Corpus Christi. Dr. James W. Simpson, head of cardiology at Driscoll Children's Hospital, and our cousin Shelley Siemonsma's doctor, had founded this institute in order to help his heart patients who came from all over South Texas to be treated at DCH. It was quite a hardship on many of their families to have to come back to Corpus Christi for check-ups and follow-up visits with him. So, CHI made it possible for him to go to the children in the towns where they lived. Through CHI, he could go all over South Texas to see his patients. Hospitals and clinics let him use facilities free of charge for perhaps one day a month while he held clinics there. There was a cost for transportation, etc. and for this he got grants and donations. We decided that this would be our "charity." 

The first year, 1982, we actually raised $1,600.00, because some of our guests were ready to pay the donation. We told them that our family was doing it and they had to pay nothing. However, they said that they would donate, too. So, we ended up putting a basket by the guest book. Dorothy made sure that every guest (man, woman and child) signed on a separate line in that book! It just made it easier to keep totals that way.

The next year, the donations grew to $2,300.00. By, 1986, at the encouragement of Mattie Gaston of Kingsville, TX, we decided to open to the public for tours of our home! We had already opened a Christmas store called Santa's Texas Workshop in 1984. It was, and still is, located in the 1926 farmhouse in which we all three grew up. It was the second house that our grandfather built on the ranch that he purchased in 1907.

When we opened for public tours in 1986, we decided to continue benefiting Dr. Simpson's Children's Heart Institute. We continued that until after his death. Then DCH built permanent clinics and hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, so there was no longer a need for doctors from Corpus Christi to travel there. CHI was phased out, and all the money left after the bills were paid, was put into an endowment at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi. We were really surprised and honored when we were told at a special luncheon that the endowment was to honor us and our commitment to helping children with heart problems here in South Texas.

I remember that we said, "But there are others who have given so much more than we could ever give." The answer to that was, "Yes, there are those who may have given more, but no one has been committed to doing it year after year for 27 years!" While it was created to honor us, what made it so special was that it honors the memory of James W. Simpson, M.D. who committed his life to serving and treating the children of South Texas.


The Organ Fund and How it Started

In January of 1993, a group from McAllen, TX was touring our Christmas House.  A lady saw the antique pump organ in our family room and asked Dorothy "Which one of you plays the organ?" 

Dorothy:  "I do." 

The lady:  "Oh, will you please play it for us?" 

Dorothy:  "Sure---for a nickel!"

The woman was surprised with this answer, but Dorothy immediately said to her, "I'm just joking.  I play that organ for every tour when we all sing 'Silent Night' together."

No more was said for the rest of the tour, but as the group was leaving when the tour was over, the woman had her hand in her pocket.  When she got to the door where Dorothy was standing, she pulled a nickel out.  "Dorothy, here's the nickel.  Thanks for playing the organ.  You did a good job."

Dorothy didn't want to take the nickel, but the lady insisted that she put it on the organ she had played. (We have two antique pump organs!)  Dorothy finally agreed, telling her that the nickel would stay on the organ until the end of the season, which would be two and a half months later at the end of March.  She also told her she would make sure that the nickel would be added to the donations to help South Texas children who have heart problems.

By the end of the season, more people had added to the donations on the organ. It had garnered a grand total of $66.55!! Since it was a cute story, we put an article in our newsletter for 1993 telling about it. When we opened the next season, the third group to tour the house asked why there was no money on the organ. They had read about it in the newsletter and were prepared to make a donation. We told them that it was just a joke, the money had been added to the donations, and we weren't doing it anymore! Well, those 7 ladies decided that they were going to start it, so they did!! At the end of the season, $596.52 had been left on the organ.

The story of these seven ladies and their donations was put in the newsletter. The three of us agreed that we would never start it, but if someone in a group put some money on the organ, we would let it continue for that season. So, we opened and our first group came on the last Saturday in September of 1994. This group had been coming since the year we opened, and asked after a couple of years if they could always be our first group. So, they have had standing reservations to be first for over 28 years! During their 1994 tour, at the point when Dorothy finished playing the antique pump organ, they all got up and started putting donations on the organ!!! When we asked them what they were doing, they said they were starting the Organ Fund, and that they planned to start it every year from then on! The "organ fund" tradition has been carried on by that first group ever since.

I would like to add one little note about that group. They went on to become some of our very best friends. The group has changed a little. A couple of the older ones have gone Home to be with the Lord, some have moved away, but others have remained faithful. We have watched several sweet little children (grandchildren of the ladies who started coming the first year) grow to be wonderful adults who are now parents of precious children themselves. They come to the first and the last (that's another story!!) tours when they are able, because they no longer live in this area. But, the core group still comes! Thank you all so much for your friendship and your faithfulness to start our Organ Fund. Because of y'all it has grown to a grand total of $84,999.20!

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Here is something that happened after Christmas in 2017, and we promised that we would share the website. We are honored to be included in Tapestry 2017, an online journal of Texas A&M University, Kingsville Women and Gender Studies. Thank you Jenni Vinson for including us.

Click on this link Tapestry to read it. The article about us starts on page 34.