Fathers and Daughters...It's Better to Give

By+Kathy Jonas

Three local doctors pass on their love of volunteerism 

A new study by Baylor University suggests that the best way to have a strong father/daughter relationship is to do things together. It doesn’t matter whether it ‘s throwing a softball in the backyard or going to see a movie.

In the case of three local physicians (and fathers), each spent time with their daughters giving to others. Two of those daughters are now doctors themselves and one is the CEO of her father’s large medical practice. All of them believe in volunteerism because it’s a part of their very being. They don’t remember life any other way.


Dr. James Wierman  &  Dr. Meredith Wierman

Dr. Meredith Wierman never knew anything other than giving to others. Her parents, a physician and a nurse, were missionaries and she went to Rwanda as a two-year-old and has been traveling with her parents to Haiti since she was a child.

She’s now a specialist in infectious diseases at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and a regular volunteer at the Sister Maura Brannick Health Center on Chapin Street in South Bend. There, she treats AIDS patients and others who don’t have health insurance. 

“It’s amazing what they do at the clinic,” she said. “HIV meds are so expensive and I’m able to get the necessary drugs and testing for the patients. It’s an expensive disease to treat.”

Her dad, Dr. James Wierman, is retired chief of staff at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac and is also a volunteer at the Sister Maura Brannick clinic. He and his wife, Denise, are on the board of a school of nursing in Leogane, Haiti, which is very close to the epicenter of the 2012 earthquake. It’s estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 people died in Leogane, but the nursing school building, miraculously, remained standing.

Jim said that it was important that both his daughters grew up knowing that not everyone lives as we do in the United States.  As a child, he remembers his dad making toys for the poor kids at Christmas. “We never lived by ourselves as a family, somebody was always in trouble and needed somewhere to stay. I was expected to serve and give back.”

That is evidenced by the fact that he and his wife left for Haiti the day after their wedding on May 17, 1969 (their honeymoon). “I was ‘called’ to what I am doing and I’m not happy unless I am doing something,” he said.

Meredith has picked up these traits – possibly through osmosis. Listen to what Sister Maura Brannick triage nurse Laura Tavernier said of her: “Dr. Wierman is a kind and caring physician. She is intensely curious and diligent in her approach to problem solving. She collaborates with physicians at the health center, within our community and beyond to provide our patients with personalized care.”


Dr. Richard Boling & Hayley Boling

Dr. Richard Boling, owner of Boling Vision Center, had lots of mentors when he was growing up in Elkhart, from coaches to teachers to a professional football player. He wants to pass this on to kids who might be struggling. He also wants his five daughters and granddaughter to understand the joy of giving.

“Volunteering is nourishing to me. It feels good.”

Richard and his wife, Babette, started an after-school initiative (he doesn’t really like the word ‘program’) about five years ago called Raise the Bar Drum Line. It involves mentoring 12-17 year old kids through drumming, rhythm, music, exercise and fun. “The kids enjoy it,” Dr. Boling said. “Actually, everyone enjoys it. Everyone from an 18 month old to a 90-year-old can do it and enjoy it.” 

The initiative takes place in the gym built about 20 years ago at his home. Dr. Boling said one of the reasons the program is a success is that it helps the kids be part of something excellent – which he said is a pretty basic human desire. 

“I teach my kids – and the kids I work with – through example. It’s kind of interesting when I hear them repeat what I’ve said. But more important, I want them to learn from our actions. ”  Like Jim Wierman’s family, the Bolings have always taken in people who were having a hard time, and even adopted a 16-year-old daughter in need nearly 12 years ago.

His third daughter, Hayley, who now runs his company, learned the lesson well. “As a kid, I remember Christmas mornings consisted of waking up and going to a VFW  hall to serve families a Christmas dinner and provide a toy drive for local kids. We learned the value of spending time with people in our community who may have fallen on rough times and simply needed a warm meal, a gift for their kids, or just a kind smile and some company on Christmas day.”

In college, Hayley mentored middle-school-aged kids by creating a curriculum focusing on leadership skills, character education and goal/dream mapping. “My heart beats fast for inner-city youth,” she said.

Since college, she has worked alongside her parents as a volunteer in “Raise the Bar Drum Line. “  She also coordinates a myriad of Boling-sponsored community and charitable activities, including Kindness to Prevent Blindness, which provides vision services to those who can’t afford care.

Most recently, Hayley co-founded the Elkhart Education Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the educational experience through the strengthening of extracurricular opportunities and the encouragement of innovation and exploration. 

“I believe that we must assist our youth in finding their ‘spark’ (aka motivation) to help get them and keep them engaged throughout their school-age years and beyond.” 

“In essence, my parents taught us to live with a joyful heart,” Hayley said. “As a result, we have had the opportunity to serve some of the most amazing individuals.”


Dr. John Offerle & Dr. Kristina Offerle

Optometrist John Offerle of Eye Care Associates of Michiana has been going to Honduras every year for the past 12 years as a part of the Indiana chapter of VOSH (Voluntary Optometric Services to Humanity) providing vision care to those most in need. His wife, Laurie, a social worker, began going along and then his daughter, Kristina (Kristi), a new graduate of the Indiana University School of Optometry and now a practicing physician in her father’s practice. 

“Honduras is a country with widespread poverty,” John said. It’s also a pretty dangerous place, with 69 US citizens killed there since 2009. VOSH ensures safety for volunteers and participants. Armed guards patrol the school where the clinic is temporarily located. 

VOSH-Indiana travels to different small towns offering free clinics and providing eye exams and glasses. 

On any given week long trip in February, he said as many as 3,000 people stand in a long line waiting for eye care.

John said his practice, along with other optometry offices from around the state, collect glasses from patients, donate them to the Lions Club, which cleans and identifies prescriptions. The supplies are then shipped and end up on a Chiquita banana boat to Honduras, where they are distributed to patients. 

Kristi, a perpetually cheerful young woman, commented that generally most people in Honduras are happy. “They have very little but they are still willing to share everything they have.” She said her trip there was life changing.

“In the US people are blind due to diseases like diabetes, macular degeneration or glaucoma. But in Honduras they are blind because they simply need someone to give them glasses. You can alter a person’s life in an instant,” she said.

Kristi said the bond with her father is strong because of the person he is: she called him the most patient, understanding and forgiving man that she knows. 

“Growing up my parents taught me the value of helping others whenever I can and that has been something I’ve tried to base my career on.” 


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