Wisconsin Woman’s Shared Gift is ‘Proof Angels Walk Among Us’
If you look outside yourself, you’ll always find someone battling a greater hardship. It’s this motto Pam Keske uses to gain perspective – and the very reason she chose to share her Pay It Forward gift, creating a domino effect hundreds of miles away.
Patricia Lewer, loan processor
When Bell Bank Mortgage acquired a mortgage office in Brookfield, Wisc., the switch came with many benefits. In 2019, loan processor Patricia Lewer and her colleagues were awarded their first Pay It Forward benefit to gift to any cause or person in need.
Patricia immediately thought of 69-year-old Pam Keske, a neighbor and nearly 30-year friend of her husband. “She’s a very sweet, compassionate and caring person that would help you out no matter what is going on in her life,” Patricia remarks. “In the 17 years I’ve known her, life has been a battle – personally and financially. She’s retired but still has to work 2 jobs to make ends meet.”
Recently divorced at 27, Pam was diagnosed with cancer in 1979 as a single mother, raising three young children. But that was just the beginning of her health battle.
"The first time was breast cancer, and I had a mastectomy. The second time it came back under the same arm, and the third time it was in my back and lower spine," Pam explains. "Mentally, it's horrible. No matter what insurance you have, it doesn't cover everything. There are a lot of hidden expenses like transportation to and from treatments."
Like most people, Pam was forced to keep working throughout treatment – while sick and “tired like you can’t imagine”– to pay the bills and feed her children.
"We've always struggled (financially) but cancer was definitely a part of it. I'm still paying on my house,” Pam says. Enduring one hardship after another, Pam was at risk for foreclosure.
“She said we have to play the cards that are dealt to us,” Patricia says. Patricia would be the one to deal Pam a well-deserved card.
One Friday evening on the way to their lake home, Patricia and her husband stopped in to visit Pam at the restaurant where she works. “We ordered drinks, and Pam left the tray on our table, so I put the Pay It Forward check on it,” Patricia explains.
When Pam returned, she picked up the check – shock and confusion clouding her face. “I thought, 'What is this?’” Pam recalls. “Somebody doesn't just hand you $500. Oh my gosh, I cried; it was such a big help. I didn't see that coming ... at all."
Still reflecting on the gift days later, Pam sent Patricia a text to thank her once again, saying, “you’re proof angels walk among us. Please tell whoever you need to in the company how very grateful I am.”
Still greater impact came days later when Pam decided to share the gift with a friend more than 750 miles away in Tennessee.
“Barb’s health was pretty bad. They didn't have any money, so I sent $200 down to her,” Pam explains. “She was my best friend and was in the hospital for weeks. This made the difference between she and her husband being able to eat … putting gas in their car.”
While Barb has since passed away, Pam’s peace comes from knowing she helped – if ever so slightly in her friend’s last days. “When you look around, there are so many people so much worse off. It was because of Patty I had the opportunity to help her,” Pam says. “I would do it every day if I could.”
Aside from a clean cancer report – after 12 years in remission – Patricia’s hope for Pam is to “be able to enjoy her retirement like she should,” she says. “She’s always positive no matter what is happening in her life.”
And that is the very inspiration – and takeaway – many Bell employees receive after every gift of hope they share.
Through the Pay It Forward program, Bell gives employees money each year to donate to people and causes they care about.