Breast Cancer Survivors Group Honors Leader

Sisters at heart group photo
Roberta Kieliger, far right in front, visits at her home in La Plata with the first two recipients of the Roberta Kieliger Sisters at Heart Scholarship, from left in front, Pilar Gonzales and Emily DiToto, with her husband, Bob Kieliger by her side, joined by, in back from left, Cindy Beck, Kieliger’s daughter; Sisters at Heart members Susan Wilborne and Nila Toribio-Straka; Harry Fraunfelder, the initial donor to the scholarship; and CSM Director of Development Chelsea Brown.

Roberta Kieliger Sisters at Heart Scholarship Honors Founder

Roberta Kieliger

Roberta Kieliger
Roberta Kieliger

It’s a matter of the heart for the Sisters at Heart, a local cancer survivor group. In honor of their leader, Roberta Kieliger of La Plata, the group mobilized to create a scholarship in her name at the College of Southern Maryland. Because of Kieliger’s interest in women’s health care and the goals of the support group she founded 10 years ago, the Roberta Kieliger Sisters at Heart Scholarship was designed to benefit students in the healthcare field, with a preference to students who are cancer survivors or family members of those who have battled cancer.

Kieliger has reached the age of 81, even after a struggle with breast cancer. She’s been married for 62 years. “I’ve had a full life,” she said from her home during a telephone interview Feb. 15. “I can’t complain … The journey has been awesome. The reason it has been awesome is because of the people.”

Kieliger is in the last weeks of her life due to MDS, a bone marrow disorder. She is under hospice care at home. “We’ve [Sisters at Heart members] all had breast cancer, and we’ve all been in and out of the hospital. Our whole mission is to support health care,” said Nila Toribio-Straka, one of Kieliger’s Sisters at Heart friends, explaining the scholarship’s focus.

Sisters at heart group photo
Roberta Kieliger, far right in front, visits at her home in La Plata with the first two recipients of the Roberta Kieliger Sisters at Heart Scholarship, from left in front, Pilar Gonzales and Emily DiToto, with her husband, Bob Kieliger by her side, joined by, in back from left, Cindy Beck, Kieliger’s daughter; Sisters at Heart members Susan Wilborne and Nila Toribio-Straka; Harry Fraunfelder, the initial donor to the scholarship; and CSM Director of Development Chelsea Brown.

Toribio-Straka also explained why Kieliger’s friends wanted to go to such lengths to honor Kieliger’s contributions to the community. “She’s just been a great one. Her personality is meek and mild … She doesn’t like to take credit for all she’s done.”

The creation of the Roberta Kieliger Sisters at Heart Scholarship was an expression of respect and love that overwhelmed Kieliger, Kieliger said from her home last week. “To think that they thought enough of me to set up the scholarship … It’s quite amazing,” she said with emotion, struggling to find her words.

Toribio-Straka worked with the CSM development office to set up the scholarship. The initial funding came from Harry Frauenfelder, a good friend of Kieliger’s. The scholarship was awarded Feb. 2 to its first two recipients, Emily DiToto of Waldorf and Pilar Gonzales of St. Leonard. One week later, DiToto and Gonzales had the chance to meet Kieliger at her home.
“That was impactful for everyone,” Toribio-Straka said.

Pilar Gonzales

Gonzales said she had never been awarded anything like a scholarship before, and she was very grateful for a chance to meet the woman for whom the scholarship was created. “All my life I will remember,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been very blessed. She’s a very nice lady.”

Emily DiToto
Emily DiToto

“Meeting Mrs. Kieliger was a rare opportunity to put a face to a scholarship for my education,” DiToto said. “Many scholarship recipients don’t have the chance to meet the donors, but meeting Mrs. Kieliger made it personal and I feel connected to her.”

Kieliger described that meeting and how much it meant to her. She noted that one of the recipients described some serious financial challenges in her family. “So, the scholarship came at an opportune time,” Kieliger said. “It really makes you feel like it was a wonderful gift my friends had given me … I’m amazed. I feel like I am very blessed.”

For information about Sisters at Heart, visit http://sistersatheartbc.wixsite.com/sistersupport. For information on scholarships at the College of Southern Maryland, visit http://foundation.csmd.edu.

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