WASHINGTON — Ten months can seem like a long time, but in the context of 61 years it's hardly any time at all.

This Christmas season is a little difficult for Gene Fisher, 84, because of those 10 months. His wife of 61 years, Beverly "Boots" Fisher, passed away in February and it's the first Christmas he spent without her in more than 61 years.

"It's not going to be that good, no, but I'll get through it," Fisher said.

The death of a loved one — whether that's a friend, family member, colleague or neighbor — is an overwhelming driving force behind the majority of the contributions to the Journal Star Christmas Fund. For today's date alone, almost $750 of the $2,413 total was donated in memory of someone no longer living.

That's what Gene Fisher had in mind when he donated $100 to the Christmas Fund this month, in honor of Beverly, "the love of his life." They met in 1952 in the state of Washington, where Gene was stationed in the Army during the Korean War. Beverly was from Winlock, a small town not far away in the southwest corner of the state. Everyone called her "Boots," so he did, too. They called and wrote endlessly.

When it came time to decide if he should marry her, Gene recalled the words of his mother, who said it would be good to marry someone in the Lutheran faith. He had many other reasons to as well, mostly having to do with her big heart and care for others.

"She was nice," Gene said.

Gene was originally from central Illinois, and though they married in Winlock in 1955, the couple eventually made their way back to the area. The Fishers were educators — Gene at Washington Community High School for 30 years and Beverly at Spalding and Woodruff high schools before substitute teaching for Peoria Public Schools. They also loved to travel, spending time in England, Scotland, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and out West quite a bit to visit Beverly's parents. They also raised three kids; two sons and a daughter.

Sixty years of spending Christmas with Beverly was difficult to forget this year. His plans were to spend Christmas Eve at his daughter's house in Peoria and to attend a service on Christmas Day at Our Savior Lutheran Church. He didn't have any grand plans, but maybe he'd propose a toast at one point in her name.

"I'm sure she'll be on my mind," he said last week.

Beverly was a giving spirit, always cherishing doing things for other people. When she died in February, it was in the middle of a shopping trip to bring some presents to a cousin's granddaughters. Gene was thinking of a way he could meaningfully honor her memory, and he determined that any way to help the less fortunate would be the best course of action.

"I just wanted to help as much as I could," Gene said as his voice strained. "I don't have much money, but it's a great way to honor her."

Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or tbruch@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.