Town tree rooted in the love of a little girl

By on November 21, 2018

Little Samantha’s eyes lit up when she saw the Christmas tree in her foster parents’ Ephrata house.

That was back in 1990 and the four-month-old little girl was living with Phil Eisemann and his wife at their East Main Street home.

Despite Samantha’s bright smile and zest for life, the sweet child had less than a year to live. She had been born with AIDS.

“I called her my darlin’ Samantha,” recalls Eisemann now. “While she was with us, she blossomed. She was the happiest, most joyful little girl you could imagine.”

Back in 1990, the tiny Christmas tree in the Eisemann’s living room brought their foster daughter great joy. She loved to watch the lights and it brought a sunny smile to her pretty face.

After Samantha died, Eisemann planted that blue spruce tree in his back yard. Twenty-eight years later, Samantha’s tree towers over the house at some 30 feet.

The tree is old now, and starting to lean. Blue spruces can live to 40-60 years, but Eisemann doesn’t think the huge tree has much time.

“I decided to donate the tree to Ephrata Borough to use as this year’s Christmas tree at the tree-lighting festivities,” said Eisemann, noting that the tree was cut down and moved to its new location earlier this week. “I know Samantha would be delighted.”

Thinking about the tree and his precious foster child brings a tear to his eye. He adored the little girl and her older brother, Jimmy, who called himself Dude. He said both children had contracted AIDS from their mother.

The Eisemanns first met Dude at Hershey Children’s Hospital, and took him in as a foster child. Later, another little boy, Eddie, also with AIDS, joined the family. When Samantha, Dude’s baby sister, was born, also infected with HIV, she joined the family. The Eisemanns hoped she would not develop AIDS. For months she blossomed and seemed healthy. Then she got sick and eventually lost her battle. Later, the little boys died too.

“The loss of the children was hard on my wife, even though she was a nurse,” says Eisemann now.

The couple divorced, and three years later, Eisemann remarried his current wife, MaryAnn. Although she never knew Samantha and her foster brothers, she knows how much the children meant to her husband.

“I loved when I came home from work, and the boys ran to me shouting “Daddy, Daddy!” They were wonderful children. But Samantha really stole my heart,” says Eisemann.

Eisemann is pleased that Samantha’s tree will be a part of the historic holiday celebration in Ephrata.

Eisemann has his own family history. He is the great grandson of Milton Sprecher, who started the famous hardware store, and was involved with Farmer’s National Bank and Trinity Lutheran Church. Eisemann was born at Ephrata Hospital in 1941, when it was located on East Main Street.

In fact, he now lives across the street from his birthplace, at the East Main Street home where his father, Quintin Eisemann, grew up. Eisemann’s great grandmother, Ida Leed, was involved in the Ephrata Fair.

Later, Eisemann wrote a book about the Ephrata Fair’s history with local historian and writer Larry Alexander, and Ephrata Review Editor Andy Fasnacht.

“I am now working on a book about Make-A-Wish here in the Lancaster area,” says the retired vocational teacher and electrician. Both Dude and Eddie were Make-A-Wish kids who got to visit Disney World.

Sadly, little Samantha did not live long enough to have a wish granted.

“She will live on this holiday season, when her tree is lit up for Christmas,” says Eisemann. “I still miss her.”




Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

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