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Adam Blake/GazetteThe CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness Board of Directors recognized member Eva Anschutz (left) and board president Ann Fritz for their decades of service to the organization during Wednesday's meeting.

The CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness Board of Directors took time during Wednesday’s meeting to celebrate two of its longest-serving and most dedicated members.

Board President Ann Fritz — currently serving her 40th year — and Board Secretary Eva Anschutz — in her 45th year of service — were honored with cake and gifts for their continued mission of providing local communities with access to affordable, quality mental health care services.

“These two ladies have added so much,” said fellow board member Karen Reeves. “Their history is amazing, and what’s really neat about them is that they appreciate the people that have just come on the board just as much as the older members. They love to have a different slant and perspective on things, and I think that says a lot about them.”

Fritz and Anschutzs’ prior careers allowed them first-hand experience in the field of community mental health care when the concept was first beginning in the late 60s and early 70s. Fritz, who still assists teachers involved with special education, knew she wanted to be involved in the fight against mental illness early in her professional life.

“When I first started into education in the early 70s, they had really just begun starting programs for children with behavioral issues,” Fritz said. “I worked at the state hospital in Topeka and later ended up working in the Family Services and Guidance Center. I actually thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist, but things kept driving me other ways and I stayed in the school system as a special educator.”

During her time in education, Fritz met multiple children who she believed weren’t receiving the necessary amount of care or attention.

“When I moved out to Wabaunsee County in ‘76 and began teaching in that district, I soon realized that they weren’t affiliated with any mental health care center in Kansas,” Fritz said. “I talked to the superintendent and we went on a countywide drive to convince the commissioners to affiliate with our mental health centers here in Emporia. I wanted to help, because I knew the parents of these children didn’t have access to good care locally and that some of them from more rural areas probably wouldn’t be able to afford the cost if they did — when I got involved in that project, that more or less volunteered me to be on the board.”

Anschutz, a registered nurse, had similar experiences in the medical field. While she spent her early career working as a pediatric nurse and aiding in the distribution of the newly-invented measles vaccine, Anschutz soon realized many of the patients she came into contact with required more than just physical treatments.

“During the time I worked for the Osage County Health Department, I saw the need for a lot of counseling and mental health care in the rural areas and smaller towns,” Anschutz said. “I knew I wanted to help those communities get access to those services, and began to work on a committee to do that. Those commissioners appointed me to be their representative for the [CrossWinds] board, and that’s really all it took to get started.”

In looking back on their time served on the CrossWinds Board of Directors, both women said it was incredible to see just how much the attitudes regarding mental disorders and methods of treating them had changed over the last few decades.

“The stigma of mental health is still there, but nowhere near as great as what it was 40 years ago,” Anschutz said. “Advances to things like medication and medication treatment are a big part of why the institutionalized population has been cut down severely. Being able to have direct contact with patients over the internet and over teleconferencing has really allowed us to reach people that may have otherwise never received care or counseling at all.”

“People are talking more and more about mental health issues, and that has been really wonderful,” Fritz added. “People are speaking of mental wellness more so than mental illness, and that has been a major transition. In the 60s, the kind of mental health care that was in vogue often involved shutting people up for life where they didn’t have support systems. Today, we’re seeing people as people, and finding ways to reach out — include and involve everyone no matter what they’re going through.”

The decades Fritz and Anschutz have spent on the board of directors have done nothing to decrease their will to help those in need, and both expressed a desire to continue serving for as long as they were able. If the words of other members are any indication, they’ll be mainstays for years to come.

“They were really in the infancy of it all, and their presence brings a sense of continuity to the board,” board member Linda Johnson said. “They have professional careers in nursing and in education that have allowed them to see the development of mental health care for decades now, so they have so much knowledge to offer. They’re definitely two people who realize how important mental wellness is and want to help others achieve it.”

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