Hidden in Garden City is the first home in western Kansas for women victimized by sex traffickers.
The nonprofit called the Oasis of Peace Center opened its doors on Valentine’s Day to up to eight women and their minor children. While the center is the first in western Kansas to offer residential rehabilitation services for trafficked women from around the country, it is also the first in the state to do so for those women and their kids, according to Toni Douglass, one of the center’s board members and its current volunteer coordinator.
But without the vision of Sister Gertrude “Trudy” Tanner of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the center would have never been possible. Sister Trudy, as she is affectionately known, died May 19 at the age of 78. The cause of her death has not yet been released by the coroner’s office.
A funeral Mass was held Wednesday at St. Dominic Catholic Church in her memory, and a Mass and burial were held at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Chapel and Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.
Sister Marie Hageman, a member of Sister Trudy’s order, was with her the day she died. The two had gone to dinner and a funny movie together shortly before Sister Trudy returned home for what was supposed to be a brief rest. She had an appointment at the Oasis Center just hours later.
Sister Marie said she was “shocked” by her passing.
“I know her health was failing, but still, I didn’t expect this,” she said.
Sister Janice Thome, another member of the Dominical Sisters, agreed. She described her reaction as “absolute shock.” Sister Trudy was due to return to the Oasis Center at 6 p.m. that evening. When she didn’t arrive to meet one of the women residing at the center, friends and colleagues knew something was wrong.
When Douglass and Sister Marie went to fetch an extra key to Sister Trudy’s apartment, they discovered her in her room.
She left a legacy for Garden City and the region.
Sister Marie said Sister Trudy always referred to the center as “God’s Project.” Given the many obstacles that she overcame to open the Oasis Center, the odds of its success seem almost predestined.
Even after three battles with cancer, a massive heart attack, a collapsed vocal cord and a struggle with lymphedema in one of her arms, Sister Trudy never stopped working on God’s Project, and seemingly no obstacle could prevent her from seeing it to completion. When she would schedule speaking engagements, despite her vocal limitations, Douglass would accompany her to help deliver her message.
“Sister Trudy traveled all over this country going to human trafficking homes, visiting with directors, visiting with the women, looking the facilities over so that she had an idea of what it was that we were going to need,” Douglass said. “Sister Trudy had three master’s degrees. This was a brilliant, gifted, kind, funny bulldog. I adored that woman.”
According to Douglass, Sister Trudy “did not want to come to Garden City,” but her visits to the Dominican Sisters’ Mother House in Great Bend left her with a feeling that she was being pulled toward western Kansas. So in 2013, she moved to Garden City from Bloomfield, Iowa, where she was a pastoral associate at St. Magdalen Parish, and began telling people about her mission.
Douglass, Sister Janice and Sister Marie all echoed one singular message about Sister Trudy’s vocational commitment: Once she told you she was going to do something, she did it.
Five years later, The Oasis Center’s board has 13 members and 56 volunteers recruited by Sister Trudy. Up until her death, she served as the volunteer coordinator. She found the house where the Oasis Center now resides. She filled it with furniture donated by people she knew. And after the center’s doors officially opened, she slept there every night and stayed there every weekend up until the day she died so the women living there would never be alone. The Oasis Center is still seeking someone to fill that role.
“It was a huge undertaking for a 78-year-old woman, but she loved doing it,” Douglass said.
The Oasis Center is currently supported by a group of “very generous, big-hearted people” in its efforts to rehabilitate women who are victims of sex trafficking, Douglass said. Through the center’s services, women learn to grocery shop, balance a checkbook and manage their money. They also learn to cook, paint and sew. The list goes on.
Because Sister Trudy embraced everyone without reservation, Douglass said, the Oasis Center’s services are available to women of every stripe, including members of the LGBTQ community and members of different faiths.
“She was a Dominican sister, but she did not feel like it was her job to preach to these women,” Douglass said, adding that the facility is based in religion but not bound by it.
Those interested in donating or getting involved can reach Douglass at (620) 805-1908, or Garcia at (620) 521-3441. Interested donors are also eligible for a 501c3 receipt so that all donations are tax-deductible.
“She will be so very missed here,” Douglass said of Sister Trudy. “But anyone who comes here will always know about Sister Trudy.”