'Lady Jackets' focus on supporting one another and central Ohio
Brett Letestu, wife of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu, spends a lot of time cleaning up after families - most of whom aren't even her own.
Every Thursday, Brett spends her day volunteering at the Central Ohio Ronald McDonald House in downtown Columbus, a home away from home for families with children who are battling serious illnesses. The House is strategically situated right across from Nationwide Children's Hospital main campus on Livingston Avenue. Weary parents and other family members can sleep or eat in between visits with their children, who are battling illnesses across the street.
"I help clean rooms, do laundry, answer phones and clean up after meals," said Brett of her Thursdays at the House. "The families are there because their children are sick - we don't want them to worry about the small stuff."
Brett knows all too well the stress of being in a new city with little to no family. She faced the same situation when Mark joined the Blue Jackets in November of 2011. Fortunately, Brett and her family were greeted with open, supporting arms by the group of players' wives that work hard to support the Columbus community. Brett knew immediately she wanted to return the favor.
"(The wives) did a tour of the Ronald McDonald facility last year," said Brett. "It was so neat to see the Blue Jackets involvement and representation. I told myself 'I want to be a part of this.'"
Visits like this happen in part because the wives of Jackets players, coaches and staff find themselves together quite a bit and have organized under the moniker the Lady Jackets.
"We don't always have our families nearby, so we make the wives all part of our family," Brett said. "If we need anything we can call one another."
The players have great respect for the relationships the women have built as well.
"The community of women and the whole organization being there is so important," said Mark Letestu. "It gives us peace of mind going on the road."
But the women don't just sit around waiting for the husbands to come home. It was a natural progression for the group to extend their time together into doing more through service to others.
"We try to get out there in the community," Brett said. "It shows what a strong group of individuals we are. We help out in ways that aren't just hockey related."
Maryann Richards, wife of Jackets Head Coach Todd Richards, echoes the importance of not only supporting one another, but also the community.
"(The wives) are all here to help each other because we're going through the same thing," said Maryann. "But we also want to give back."
Like Brett, Maryann has participated in projects important to her including Habitat for Humanity builds, local school programs, and Salvation Army efforts. She also includes her two sons.
"It means so much to help others - to see what the gift of time can do," said Maryann. "I want our sons to be thankful for this hockey world and the opportunities it provides for us to do more."
An annual tradition for the Lady Jackets is to work with the Blue Jackets Foundation to put on the "Blue Jackets Favorites Basket Auction and Raffle." Wives pull together a variety of their husband's favorite things that are auctioned off to benefit the Foundation.
"Everyone takes part in shopping and putting the pieces together," said Maryann. "We're doing something good and it's fun to get together."
The group is in the final stages of wrapping up the baskets that will be auctioned and raffled off over the course of the next three home Jackets games: December 14, 16 and 21.
The Letestu basket includes a signed authentic jersey, Mark's favorite book, his favorite candy - Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - and a zoo membership among other things. The Richards package includes dinner with Todd and Maryann and Hyde Park Steakhouse.
"You want it be done right," Brett said. "It's fun; the fans can see into the lives of their favorite player and it's for such a good cause."
All the work the women put in does not go unnoticed. Brett's husband says he's not only impressed by her, he's proud of her as well.
"You see someone that devoted to giving back to others as someone you want to share your life with," said Mark. "She's an awesome example for me, our kids and our families."
The saying goes that behind every good man there's a great woman. The Lady Jackets are proving that theory right day in and day out.
You can bid on Player Favorites Baskets at the Jackets next home game, Saturday Dec. 14 against the St. Louis Blues at 7 p.m. For more information or to buy tickets, visit bluejackets.nhl.com.