Christmas is a time for sharing and being with family. The Paullus clan numbers nine. Since most are now married, with kids of their own, family get- togethers are quite large. Raised "poor but happy," they understand the value of a helping hand.
Their mother, Agnes Dierdorf Paullus, was very close to her parents and siblings. With her husband John, she worked hard to raise a close-knit, loving family of her own.
For years, the Dierdorfs have had an annual family Christmas dinner early in December. Starting about 15 years ago, after dinner each year, they hold an auction of homemade goodies, crafts and nostalgic items and use the money to provide Christmas for a struggling family. But their philanthropy doesn't stop there. They carry the Christmas spirit all year long.
Agnes's mother, Edith Dierdorf, loved to play cards. Grandma Dierdorf, as Edith was called by the Paullus children, played euchre with some of her family nearly every Thursday evening.
Although John and Agnes Paullus both died fairly young, John of a fatal heart attack, their children continued to go to Grandma Dierdorf's and play cards.
They played together until Grandma had to quit when she was 99 years old and couldn't see any more. Everyone missed the card games.
About three years ago, after Grandma Dierdorf had passed away, the three Paullus brothers, Pete, Tim and Larry, started getting together occasionally on Friday nights with their Uncle Bob Dierdorf, and resumed the card games.
They switched from euchre to hearts, however, and eventually the weekly card game came to be known as the "Heart Club". If someone couldn't show up, they'd get a replacement.
They never told the women, though. Even when they asked one of their sisters, Mary Grace Hunt, to fill-in, they never told her they were playing every week.
"Then one night Aunt Patsy Dierdorf called Mary Grace and told her we were playing at my house and we didn't want the women to come," Pete said.
"So Mary Grace, Peggy and Rose crashed the party. We let them stay because they brought food," Pete laughed. "Normally we just had popcorn.
"Then it escalated. Rose said why don't we all get together at my house next week. I told the women if they quit bringing food they couldn't come anymore," Pete continued, smiling.
So, the weekly card games were resurrected and became the Friday night heart club. And, indeed, there is a lot of heart involved.
The siblings take turns hosting. They all live close to the Brazil area except Clara who is a missionary in Costa Rica. Cousins and adult children fill in sometimes. Five to 13 people show up with an average of eight or nine.
One autumn night, shortly after the heart club had begun again, someone said they'd heard about a family who needed some help financially.
Rose had been to the bank that day and had been given a little green money bag as a promotional gift. After hearing about the family's plight she said, "Why don't we each give $3 every time we play cards and we'll use that money for people who need a little help."
Everyone agreed and reached into their pockets. Looking around the room for something to put the money in, Rose spotted the little green bag and passed it around. That's how it started.
Every week the green bag is passed around and whoever shows up puts in $3, or more. No one has bothered to calculate how much money they've actually spent. Whenever they're made aware of a particular need that touches them, they get some of the symbolic "green bag" money and try to solve the problem.
Over the years they have given money to the Staunton Food Pantry, partially funded two boys to go to Scout camp, donated to the Optimist Club, sent a large number of service packages to soldiers, bought many school supplies and backpacks for elementary school children, paid many utility bills, helped numerous individual children with personal needs such as shoes, coats and glasses and last year alone, took 23 names off the Christmas tree at Wal-Mart.
"We've had so many people help us through the years," Pete said. "This gives us a chance to give something back."
"I think there's something magical about the green bag," Peggy added. "Whenever we need some money to help someone, it seems like there's always more than enough.
But the people in the family with a big heart continue to have health problems with their individual hearts.
"Christmas of 2001 was the worst Christmas we ever had," said Regina Paullus, Tim's wife.
"Tim has serious heart problems and has had open heart surgery," Regina explained. "Two years ago, on Christmas Eve, a complication developed and we had to rush to the hospital in Indianapolis. The doctor admitted Tim, surprised that he was still alive.
He was in a two-bed room and the other patient was an elderly gentleman in very serious condition. His respirations got worse and I heard him take his last breath," Regina continued. "Tim wasn't responding then so he wasn't aware of what was going on when they took the fellow out.
"I called our families. Tim's family was playing cards. They said they'd be there as soon as possible. My mom got in touch with the kids. After all the calls were made, I sat there with Tim in this dark, silent hospital room.
"I thought about Christmas, the presents sitting unopened under the tree, the unbaked turkey. Our kids and grandkids at home with no presents from us to open and how Christmas had just stopped for everyone. I thought I was going to lose Tim and I was scared to death.
"Then I noticed a sliver of light, a little ray of sunshine, creeping through a crack in the window. Suddenly, I knew what Christmas was all about. It was about God. It was about faith and family. Those are gifts you can't unwrap.
"The Lord had seen us through the night and it was Christmas morning. And Tim was still alive. I just knew he was going to be all right.
"We didn't open Christmas presents until January but we all knew we had been given the greatest gift of all, faith and family. We were so thankful. What I thought was the worst Christmas ever turned out to be the best Christmas we ever had."