Priest swims 15 miles for fallen veterans

Fr. Paul Lippstock raises over $8,700 for local vets

By Rae Yost and Dan Russo

044FOREST CITY — By 7:30 p.m. May 26, Father Paul Lippstock was nearing 15 miles of swimming in the Forest City YMCA pool.

He wasn’t training for some upcoming quest, but was raising money for the Family Alliance for Veterans of America (FAVA) in Forest City.

Father Lippstock took pledges for every length he swam in the Y pool and also received general donations. But the priest, who serves parishes in the Archangels Catholic Cluster, which includes St. James in Forest City, St. Patrick in Britt and others, said he was doing more than swimming to raise money.

“In between swimming I will be remembering those who served, those still serving, those killed in action and those missing in action,” Father Lippstock said before the swim.

Father Lippstock retired as a general in the Iowa National Guard where he served for more than 20 years. He has been a priest for more than 30 years.

He planned to swim between 700 and 1,400 pool lengths when he started at 6 a.m. May 26. By 7:30 p.m., he had completed 1,050 lengths in 13.5 hours. A length at the Y pool is 25 yards.

“I could have gone further,” said the 63-year-old priest afterwards. “I was a little sore that evening.”

Supporters swam with him throughout the day. As he neared the 10-mile mark, Charlie Schaefer, 9, of Buffalo Center, and Emma Sougstad of Forest City, a sophomore swim team member at the University of Iowa, joined him.

“These two have been pushing me,” Father Lippstock said.

“He’s raising funds for veterans,” Schaefer said. Schaefer is a member of the Y swim team.

Schaefer said he enjoyed his time swimming with Lippstock and Sougstad.

Sougstad isn’t raising any money, “It’s a friend supporting a friend,” she said.

“I help push him,” Sougstad said. Sougstad is accustomed to spending time in the pool, but this is different.

“My longest practice is four hours long,” she said.

What Father Lippstock did, “I think is awesome,” Sougstad said. “I can’t imagine. …”

FAVA staff member Denise Holst was also impressed by Lippstock’s feat. “This event is huge,” Holst said. “It’s amazing what he’s doing for us.”

Father Lippstock dedicated his swim to four fallen veterans, three he served with and his nephew. A table beside the Y pool contained their photos.

The event took place between Pentecost (May 24) and Father Lippstock’s 37th anniversary of being ordained a priest (May 27), so he decided to use the opportunity to pray for veterans as he swam.

“As I look back on it, it was a beautiful way to remember our veterans,” said Father Lippstock.

Each veteran Father Lippstock dedicated his swim to had a “gift of the Holy Spirit,” which he remembered.

PFC Katie Soenksen, 19, was a military police officer in the army from Davenport. The daughter and wife was killed on duty in Iraq in 2007. Father Lippstock remembered her for the gift of joy.

“I blessed her groups often as they would go out on runs,” he said.

Sgt. Delayon Wilson, 33, of California, the priest’s newphew, was a Marine who served two tours in Iraq. He commited suicide in 2012.

“His two tours, he did many things that most of us will never do,” recalled Father Lippstock.

The priest remembered his nephew for the gift of hope.

CSM Marilyn Gabbard, 46, of Polk City, Iowa, was also an acquaintance of Father Lippstock’s. She was the first woman promoted to the position of a command sergeant major in the Iowa National Guard and the first woman from the guard to lose her life in Iraq.

“I had lunch with her five days before her helicopter went down,” recalled Father Lippstock.

The priest remembered CSM Gabbard for her gift of motherhood.

The fourth veteran Father Lippstock dedicated his swim to was Scott Nisely of Marshalltown, a major in the Marine Corps who later tranferred to the Iowa National Guard, where he served as a staff sergeant.

The 48-year-old father, husband and son met Father Lippstock on a multinational peace keeping mission in Sinai, Eygpt in 2003-2004.

“He and I swam every day in the Red Sea,” recalled the priest.

The gift Father Lippstock remembered Nisley for was his dedication to prayer and his ability as a swimmer.

In addition to the four veterans Father Lippstock knew personally, he and the rest of the poeple at the event focused on praying for about 1,500 other veterans and their families.

“It was a community event, not just the Archangels Catholic Cluster,” said Father Lippstock. “People from all over the two counties came and even (people) worldwide (got involved), because we made up a Facebook page.”

In order to make it through the swim, Father Lippstock would take breaks every hour, and had the benefit of food provided by volunteers, if he needed it. He is an avid swimmer who typically does 1.5 to 2 miles a day, a time he also uses to pray the Rosary.

“I’ve done over 20,000 miles swimming,” reflected the priest. “Every length is a Hail Mary.”

He has done major fundraising swims before, in the past raising money for Catholic Schools and other causes. With the help of his sponsors, Father Lippstock raised $8,700 for FAVA in Forrest City. His sum will be combined with about $7,900 raised by another group, who did their own fundraiser. All the money will go toward helping veterans and their families. A poster remembering veterans will also be made and hung at the YMCA and later at the FAVA office.

Father Lippstock thanked all the people who swam with him May 26 and the supporters who were there outside the pool. He was grateful to the Y for reserving two lanes for him and his fellow swimmers the day of the event. The priest is still receiving donations as a result of the swim for FAVA. Anyone interested in giving funds can send them to FAVA “Deployment Swim,” 100 North Clark St., PO Box 26, Forest City, IA, 50436.


Yost is the editor of The Forest City Summit and Britt New Tribune. This article is being reprinted with permission of The Forest City Summit. Additional information was added to the original article by Witness staff.


This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.