Riding a Dream
For six years, Tom Gramke ate lunch every Thursday with Edward Brueggeman, S.J. Gramke would pick up Brueggeman at the Jesuit residence on campus and together they’d drive to a nearby Skyline Chili, where they’d wolf down coneys and chew over Gramke’s idea for a new nonprofit business. The weekly lunch was Gramke’s idea, but not once did the good Father let Gramke pay the bill.
“He said, ‘It’s my pleasure to take what you’re doing in your head and heart and buy you lunch,’ ” Gramke recalls. “When he passed away, I was in the room. We became dear friends, and I told him, ‘You’ve got to keep praying for me.’ ”
Apparently he did, because for the last 14 years their dream has been a reality. Gramke’s Love Quest Children’s Foundation has been giving handicapped kids a leg up on life by mounting them on horses and providing physical therapy. The volunteer staff and donated horses can work near miracles for kids with various handicaps including head traumas, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis and learning and emotional disorders. Research shows that children with such disabilities improve their motor skills, balance, touch response and self-esteem by riding horses.
Gramke, who lost his mother to cancer, his father to a disability and his marriage to divorce, turned to Brueggeman for guidance in his quest to find personal fulfillment by doing something for others. Now the 1969 graduate is a certified North American Riding for the Handicapped instructor, has four horses and is shopping for more.
“The horse is a beautiful animal that God created,” he says. “The one great thing about the horse is it doesn’t talk back. It just accepts you and it doesn’t judge.”
Gramke’s agency has served about 2,000 people since it started in 1989 with one horse named Angel. Love Quest, which relies on donations of dollars, horses and volunteers, moved to a larger space last May and is hoping to grow to serve more children.
“I think God sends these people to show how much he loves us and for us to exercise virtues of compassion and charity,” he says.