2012-03-29 / 15 Minutes

For a former soldier and his new wife, it’s all about the children

BY BOB MASSEY
Florida Weekly Correspondent


Jerry and Paula Wiedewitsch 
COURTESY PHOTO Jerry and Paula Wiedewitsch COURTESY PHOTO Jerry Wiedewitsch and his new wife of 15 months, Paula, are living a fairytale romance that took 40 years to happen.

“We both grew up in Minnesota and dated when we were in college,” Mr. Wiedewitsch said. “I was 19 and she was 18.”

Joining the U.S. Army, he asked her to marry him.

“Paula said she wasn’t ready to get married because she had not finished her degree. So we went our separate ways. Then about 40 years later, after my first wife passed away, we got back together and started dating, and we got married in September of 2010.”

What makes the relationship even more special is that both are passionately devoted to helping the needy — especially children.

Florida Weekly had to catch up with the couple by phone because, although they live close by in Port Charlotte’s Riverwood Golf Club, Mr. Wiedewitsch’s business requires them to travel two or three weeks a month. And that doesn’t include mission trips they take to other countries.

Mr. Wiedewitsch retired as an Army colonel after 27 years. He commanded a tank battalion during Desert Storm, specializing in research and development. When he wasn’t in the field with tanks, he was working on technologies that could be applied to them or to other ground vehicles. His last assignment at the tank automotive center in Michigan opened a door for his present post-military career.

“My contacts and work right now are related to the Department of Defense, but I’ve shifted over from working just government contracts to working with small businesses in and around Detroit,” Mr. Wiedewitsch said.

He targets companies that have suffered setbacks due to the flagging auto industry. If they have technology, business processes or projects that would be compatible with the defense industry, he then helps them compete for contracts. In many cases, he said, the additional revenue stream this creates allows the companies to survive without layoffs.

It’s a booming business that allows the Wiedewitsches to do what they love — working with children.

The opportunity came when a couple Mr. Wiedewitsch has known for 20 years invited him and Paula to visit a mission deep in the countryside villages of Uganda. They’ve traveled to Uganda twice in as many years, and spend a month each visit.

“It has been extremely rewarding,” Mr. Wiedewitsch said. “We’re supporting a school for the handicapped and working on feeding programs, as well as giving spiritual instruction. That’s the most exciting place we enjoy going to now. It fulfills a lifelong dream of being able to also work and help children.”

Because they did not have children themselves, Mr. Wiedewitsch and his first wife, Phyllis, were dedicated to working with the children at Peace Lutheran Church in Port Charlotte. They would involve the kids in different religious programs, and Phyllis, who loved to cook, ran the kitchen. Wherever he was stationed, he said, she would find a soup kitchen or some other service at which to volunteer, and he would join her.

“My first wife had a real heart for children and the less fortunate, and we often talked about being able to do something with children … either in South America or Africa or someplace like that,” Mr. Wiedewitsch said.

His new wife has a similar passion, having served as a public school teacher for nearly 40 years. And he believes that’s no accident.

“Being a teacher for that long, she has a heart for kids,” Mr. Wiedewitsch said. “We felt it was a divine intervention that God brought us together. I think it’s very much a God thing, in that my wife worked the last 10 years in the inner city of St. Paul with children of color, many non-English speaking — Hmong, Somali, Vietnamese, a wide variety.”

Mr. Wiedewitsch confessed that he doesn’t know where his desire to help others springs from.

“I’ve always been very grateful for what God has provided,” he said. “I’m able to work in relatively good health in an industry that’s extremely busy right now, and I’m able to take the resources that are provided and give them back.

“The reward from it was always such a satisfying feeling that we made a difference in somebody’s life,” he added.

“And who knows down the line what that might do?” ¦

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