MARJORIE BUCHI knows all about adversity.
Six years ago, her stepgrandson, Joshua Lush, died of cystic fibrosis. A year later, her only daughter, Jodi Lush, died of Hodgkin's disease. Two years later, her husband, Keith, was diagnosed as having skin cancer and given three months to live; he battled the disease for a year and a half before he passed away.During that time, Buchi struggled with her own health problems. In June 1988 she underwent heart surgery to have a valve replaced. In September 1989, she was operated on again, this time for a brain tumor.
To be plagued with only one of these trials is bad enough. But to endure all of them patiently would test anyone's mettle. Buchi could easily have wallowed in self-pity. Instead, she chose to lose herself in the service of others.
She remembered that after Keith read the book "On Wings of Eagles," he started calling her his hero. She said that word was reinforced with Jack Jones' recording of the song "The Wind Beneath My Wings." The words complemented Keith's feelings."Actually, my husband was MY hero," Buchi confessed.
After he passed away, she thought a lot about heroes. At the same time, she realized that in order to survive, she had to immerse herself totally in a worthy cause.
Being craft-oriented, she decided to decorate a Christmas tree and donate it to the 1989 Festival of Trees. And the decorations? Sleighs and sleds signed by well-known Americans - "those heroes that have made the country what it is."
She had Elder Marion D. Hanks sign the first sleigh in December 1988.
"Before my daughter Jodi died, she painted a picture for Elder Hanks. He later spoke at her funeral," Buchi said.
What started out as a simple project soon mushroomed into a highly ambitious one.
"It was a long, expensive venture," she said. "The project took over 10,000 hours and cost $6,900. I spent one whole year with nothing but this project on my mind."
She ended up with close to 300 sleighs, with each one signed by an American hero. There were autographs of national and local politicians (Gerald Ford, Orrin Hatch, Wayne Owens, Calvin Rampton); singers (Crystal Gale, Jack Jones, Carol Lawrence, Maureen McGovern, the Osmonds, Kenny Rogers, Neil Sedaka, Andy Williams); movie and TV actors (George Burns, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Gordon Jump, Rich Little, Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart); and sports greats (Jim McMahon, Gene Fullmer, Steve Young, Nancy Lopez, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicholas, Arnold Palmer, Alf Engen, the Jazz).
There are also names of prominent businessmen, opera stars, visual artists, talk-show hosts, church leaders and others.
In order to get autographs of her heroes, Buchi would carefully check the papers to see what celebrity was coming to town to perform, etc. Then she or a friend would find a way to get a signature.
She also had great success getting signatures through the mail. Along with a letter of explanation, she would enclose a sleigh; a stamped, self-addressed envelope; and even a pen.
"I tried to make it as easy as possible," she said.
After the sleighs were signed, Buchi and two dozen of her friends painted them. Three women helped make the dolls that were placed in or on the sleighs. One of them, Merry McIntire of Los Osos, Calif., made all of the dolls for the Osmond sleighs.
Several visual artists whose names appear on sleighs preferred to decorate them as well. Grant Romney Clawson and Arnold Friberg led the way with creative designs. Printed on the side of Clawson's sleigh are the words "Santa Claus, proprietor - in business since time began."
Local artist Lucas Visser did a masterful job painting Bill Cosby's sleigh. Joan Peterson designed the one LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson signed. And what fills his sleigh? Why, miniature copies of the Book of Mormon, of course.
There was still much work to do when Buchi entered the hospital in September 1989 to have the brain tumor removed. The Festival of Trees was only about a month and a half away.
"After surgery, my brain was so mixed up that I was disoriented," Buchi said. "I couldn't hear, see or walk." But she was determined to finish her project. Long before she should have been up and around, she was. She had her daughter-in-law drive her around the valley collecting sleighs, picking up last-minute decorations and tying up loose ends.
By this time, one tree had become three - one for each of the loved ones she had lost.
Suddenly, Buchi's garage became a workshop as friends and family helped decorate the trees. They were carefully transported to the Salt Palace.
After all the hours and expense of the project, Buchi bought back the trees for $3,100 and donated the money to the Primary Children's Medical Center.
This holiday season, Buchi has carefully unpacked all of the sleighs, houses and other decorations and has placed them in almost every room of her home. Surrounded by her heroes, she feels very much at home and at peace.
Looking back, she said, "The project was total therapy. If I hadn't started it, I don't know what would have happened to me."
In the face of adversity, a person can sour like a pickle or soar like an eagle. Keith Buchi was right when he called his wife a hero.