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sandy-wipfSandy Wipf builds a legacy of giving

How many “littles” does it take to make much? Consider the many contributions of longtime Conifer resident and tireless community volunteer Sandy Wipf.

A Colorado native raised in the shadow of the Rockies, Sandy grew up listening to the mountain-area’s siren call.

“My uncle worked at the Long Scraggy girls’ camp in Pine, and we used to visit him in the off-season,” says Sandy. “I remember coming up to the taffy shop in Evergreen, and we were up and down the 285 Corridor so much that it seemed like home to me since I was a child.”

Married in 1970, she and her husband, Paul, wasted no time in making their higher aspirations a reality.

“Six months after we were married we started looking for land in the mountains,” Sandy says. “We knew that was where our hearts were.”

They soon found the land they were looking for, a green and peaceful parcel off Foxton Road in Conifer. They built a house, welcomed a beautiful daughter into their lives, and made the most of their new home’s natural amenities.

“We skied, biked and hiked, and we stuck pretty close to home. To this day I’m grateful I can walk out my front door and live in such beauty. That’s a gift I’ll never take for granted.”

While Paul was busy building a successful career with Public Service Co. of Colorado, now Xcel Energy, his wife found rewarding employment with a different kind of public utility.

“I worked in the Evergreen Public Library for 23 years, and I also worked in the school libraries at Marshdale Elementary and West Jeff Elementary.”

If the happy obligations of job and family consumed most of Sandy’s time, she determinedly began finding ways to satisfy the obligation she felt to her beloved mountain community. “My family was ranchers and farmers, and helping your neighbors is just part of ranching and farming,” she explains. “I guess that’s part of my family heritage.”

Sandy shared that heritage broadly. For the better part of 38 years she’s been a volunteer mainstay of St. Laurence Episcopal Church. For the last 15, she’s been the most friendly and familiar of faces at the 285-area food bank – first through St. Laurence and currently by way of the Mountain Resource Center – assisting clients, procuring fresh produce and assembling holiday baskets for families in need of some hometown cheer. And anybody who’s stood curbside at Evergreen’s annual rodeo parade has doubtless enjoyed Sandy’s precision trolley-handling with the library’s semi-trained Book Cart Drill Team. But when it comes to helping her neighbors, her selfless heart belongs to Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice.

“It kind of evolved,” she explains. “I’ve always believed in the hospice approach, so 19 years ago I started volunteering at the Freedom Run food table.”

Two years later, Sandy’s voluntary evolution accelerated when Paul’s father developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and spent his final days in the care of Lutheran Hospice.

“It was such a profound experience that I felt like I should be doing more.”

And more is what she did, enrolling in Mount Evans’ volunteer training program.

“It was a wonderful, in-depth introduction to what home-health and hospice is and does. It prepares you very well, even if you don’t have any prior experience.”

From there Sandy began helping out in many little ways – answering phones, filing paperwork, stuffing envelopes, even the tedious but necessary labor of compiling statistical information.

“It was primarily office work, but I did anything they needed.”

Back in 1999 Mount Evans needed her to help with its yearly 9HealthFair at the Evergreen Elks Lodge. She’s been doing it ever since. Almost 10 years ago Mount Evans asked her to pitch in at their annual dinner-dance at Mount Vernon Country Club. Today she’s got nine of them under her belt.

In 2002, Sandy’s husband succumbed to the same illness that claimed his father.

“Paul went through Lutheran Hospice, too, but Mount Evans supported me all the way through it. I relied heavily on them for emotional support, and to answer questions. They were with me all the way, and they still are. Whether it’s home health care or hospice, they don’t stop. They continue to care, and to be involved.”

Individually, Sandy’s contributions to her mountain community are small. Together, between food banks and freedom runs, health fairs, filings and fundraisers, they add up to a large piece of her life and an impressive record of service. To her credit, Sandy isn’t inclined to make too much of it.

“I’m just a very small part of a very big group of people who do so much more,” she says. “And I’ve received so much more than I’ve ever given. By volunteering I’ve been enriched beyond measure.”

 

vol-goldKim Gold

The buddy system – volunteer’s first Camp Comfort experience won’t be her last

The lion-hearted volunteers who step forward to become Camp Comfort “buddies” enter into a small world of woe bearing desperately needed help, hope and healing.

It’s a step never taken lightly, a burden that requires everything of its bearer, and a merciful mission that never changes one life but that it changes another. The term “buddy” is a casual-sounding title that masks the most serious of responsibilities – to help the youngest victims of shattering loss find a path through the dark and terrifying forest of their grief.

“I went through the whole training program, and then said ‘no’,” recalls longtime Evergreen resident Kimberly Gold. “I just wasn’t ready for that.”

Gold’s hesitation in the summer of 2012 speaks volumes about the emotional rigors of Camp Comfort, the bereavement program for children established 23 years ago by Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice, and perhaps even more eloquently to her own clear-eyed appraisal of what being a “buddy” would demand of her.

“Those kids need somebody who’s going to be completely there for them,” Gold explains. “I wasn’t sure I could be.”

Dealing with children holds few mysteries for Gold, who, with her husband, Robert, has four of her own, and who’s been teaching Sunday school for 25 years. In fact, dealing with the grief of children is a road Gold began walking in 2011 when Robert succumbed to serious illness.

Almost entirely focused on easing the blow for their three sons and adopted daughter, she had little time and few tools for tackling her own misery. And then she found a friend who offered an infinite supply of both.

“Mount Evans made a huge difference for me,” Gold says. “I started attending the support group for people who lost a spouse. It really helped get me over the roughest patches. That’s also when I got to know some of the people at Mount Evans and experienced the amazing love that fills that place. I thought ‘This is where I need to be.’”

If Gold still had reservations about committing herself to Camp Comfort, she didn’t hesitate to lend her heart and hard-won experience to other Mount Evans programs.

“I volunteered in a personal support capacity, talking to others who were bereaved. And I did respite care.”

Allowing time and the healing power of purpose to work their quiet miracles, by the spring of 2013 Gold felt ready to step into the role she’d been practicing for all along – that of Camp Comfort buddy. She had a right to feel well-prepared. Grappling with weighty spiritual matters comes naturally to Gold, who’s well on her way to the master’s degree that will make her an ordained minister and, she hopes, a Veterans Administration chaplain. Perhaps even more importantly, Mount Evans’ buddy-training was still fresh in her mind.

“They bring in other buddies to talk about their experiences,” she says. “You learn how different kids react to the camp, and to their buddies. They advise you on what to bring, on what not to bring, and on some of the situations you might face. One thing they advise you to bring is a box of Kleenex.

“It was really excellent preparation. I knew there would be emotional times that would affect me, but I felt confident I could handle them. I won’t say that having been through such difficult times recently made me think it would somehow be easier, but I thought it probably helped prepare me for what was ahead.”

Those seasoned buddies also helped dispel any illusions their trainees might have had about swooping in like cleansing angels and sweeping away the black clouds from grieving children’s minds. For her part, painful experience had already taught Gold the stubborn nature of grief and the limits of her ability to banish it.

“I didn’t have any grand expectations,” she says. “My hope was just to support a child who feels lost and scared, and let them know I’m there for them.”

Camp Comfort convenes for two weekends each summer at the Easter Seals Camp in Empire Junction. Gold was signed up for the July session, which kicked off at about suppertime on Friday, July 26, which is also when she got her first look at the two boys who would be her constant companions and surrogate sons for the following 43 hours.

“It was a very large group of campers, and most of the buddies had two kids,” says Gold, who, like every buddy at Camp Comfort, immediately decided she’d drawn the two best tykes on the lot. “Mine were great kids, and they complemented each other very well.”

Seven-year-old Josh came up from Colorado Springs. An outgoing boy with a thick shock of dark hair, Jacob lost his mother to cancer. Young Tatum, also seven, was chosen for Camp Comfort after his little brother was hit and killed by a car. A small-ish towhead from Lakewood, Thomas proved to be more assertive physically than verbally.

“Josh was pretty good about speaking in group activities, but he wouldn’t get on the zip-line for anything,” Gold smiles. “Thomas was a lot more reserved, but he’d go right up the climbing wall like it was nothing. They were a good match for each other.”

Camp Comfort’s programs run between the therapeutic and the recreational, along the way touching on everything from group discussion, to art, to theater, to horseback riding. Every activity, of course, from fishing to handicrafts, is carefully tailored to serve a healing purpose, and, quite by design, the campers (and their buddies) are kept on a brisk schedule lest any camper should spend too much time dwelling on the reason for their enrollment and not enough on the clean air, sunshine and agreeable company.

“Every single minute is filled up,” says Gold. “By Saturday night all the buddies were exhausted. But that didn’t matter. If a kid wanted to fish one more time, they got to fish one more time.”

That’s not to say the weekend was without tears. Sharing stories of their lost loved ones’ brought thinly buried emotions to the surface, and by Saturday night Josh was suffering a bout of that most common of summer-camp afflictions, homesickness. In the case of Camp Comfort, however, that condition is generally deeper and more complicated than a mere desire to go home.

“They want to go home, but they’re also homesick for the loved one they lost. They can go home when camp is over, but they’ll never see that person again. Imagine how that must feel.”

In the harsh calculus of Camp Comfort, Josh’s distress was in fact a healthy display of emotion, and, happily, his older sister happened to be bunking a couple of cabins over. A timely reunion went a long way toward easing the aches in both their hearts.

“It was amazing to see how Jacob and his sister supported each other,” says Gold. “But kids supporting each other is a big part of how Camp Comfort works. It gives them a chance to be with other kids who are in the same situation, and talk with kids who know what they’re going through. The kids are able to help each other far more than we buddies ever could.”

By mid-afternoon Sunday the last camper was on their way back down Clear Creek Canyon and Gold was left alone in the strange and sudden vacuum to assess her Camp Comfort experience in cool hindsight. For a weekend spent mostly listening, she felt remarkably spent. That she’d be coming back she had no doubt, and next time she expects to have a very special buddy among the buddies.

“My 18-year-old son wants to be a buddy next year. He knows better than anyone what these kids are going through, and he wants to help them get through it.”

If Gold didn’t sign on in expectation of reward, she certainly received a few. Her trophies weren’t the sort she can set on the mantle and dust once a week, but rather the kind that abide in the heart unseen, shiny beads of memory to brighten every day to come.

“When Thomas wrote letters to his brother, he always wrote ‘I Love You’ on it.”

“Josh was so excited when he caught his first fish.”

“When they decorated the pictures they drew of their loved one, Josh gave his mom a tiara. Thomas was very particular about his brother’s hair.”

“It was great to see the bond Josh and Thomas formed. They shared a lot together.”

“The counselors, the buddies, the fishermen and the other volunteers all had so much love for those kids, and the kids had so much love for each other. It’s like there was a big bubble over the whole camp, and it was love.”

Gold’s best reward, and her least expected, came late in the game. It was on Sunday morning, a hectic time at Camp Comfort, what with rides on the way and campers trying to pack in a little more fun before the long drive home. Gold and her two charges were heading down to the trout pond for one last cast and, naturally, Jacob and Tatum were outpacing their buddy by a furlong, at least. Even so, the fresh breeze skipping down from Mount Eva blew random scraps of the boys’ unselfconscious conversation back toward the footsore grownup behind.

“We should come back next year,” said Tatum.

“Yeah, we should definitely come back next year,” Jacob agreed, with a casual gesture toward the woman puffing along in their wake. “Maybe we’ll get her again.”

 

This page should be used to store volunteer archives…with the most recent on top.

Tom GillTom Gill

Tom Gill is the original Camp Comfort buddy

The kids call him the Fisherman.

“Because I’m in charge of the fishing,” explains Lakewood resident Tom Gill, in an unconscious masterstroke of understatement. Neither title nor explanation can begin to address Tom’s incalculable contributions to Camp Comfort, much less his uniquely honorable position among Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice’s compassionate cadre of volunteers. “I’ve been doing the fishing since the beginning.”

That would be since 1995, the year Sally Wandling’s long-held dream of a Mount Evans-sponsored summer camp for bereaved children at last became reality among the pines and peace of Camp Santa Maria southwest of Bailey. Though wholly new and utterly untried, Wandling’s rapidly evolving Camp Comfort model provided that each camper be issued a grown-up “buddy” to serve as their friend, facilitator, attentive ear and emotional rock during the two-day program. Though sound, that plan lacked one essential ingredient – a ready supply of volunteer buddies. The call went out, and was heard by Tom’s wife, Kathy, a nurse at Porter Hospice.

“Kathy told me they didn’t have enough male buddies,” recalls Tom, a doting father to his and Kathy’s five daughters. “She asked me if I’d like to be a buddy to a couple of boys.”

He accepted the post, but not without reservations.

“It was new to me, and a little unnerving. Would they accept me? Could I be relaxed enough for them to feel comfortable with me? I didn’t have any education in counseling kids, much less kids who just lost a loved one. I accepted it as a challenge, but I felt like I might be getting in over my head.”

If Tom lacked training in child psychology and bereavement counseling, he was superbly trained in a different kind of therapy that would soon prove indispensable to Camp Comfort’s heavy-hearted clients.

“The kids needed play time in between workshops. I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, so I volunteered to be part of the entertainment and show the kids how to fish.”

It was an inspired idea that the campers took to like…um…fish to water.

“At that first camp we were using bamboo fishing poles, kite string and safety pins,” Tom laughs. “But they caught fish. I couldn’t believe how many kids have never fished in their lives, and it was a really rewarding experience to watch that proud moment when they bring in a fish. The sadness just disappears.”

As Camp Comfort’s expertise and reputation grew, so did its roll-call. By 1998 the campers were dropping their barbless hooks in well-stocked ponds at the larger Easter Seals Camp in Empire Junction, and the Fisherman was getting a much needed hand from an able school of Trout Unlimited volunteers.

“It can be a real job keeping all those kids from hooking themselves, or hooking each other,” he grins. “I really needed the help, and they’re glad to give it.”

And those clunky bamboo poles?

“I went to Eagle Claw in Denver and asked them if they’d help me out,” Tom says. “They didn’t quite understand what I was doing with all these fishing poles, but they gave me 20 at their cost. Four years later they updated all of our equipment for free, and they’ve been doing that ever since.”

Most days, 40 bright rods and reels occupy a ceiling rack spanning the width of the Fisherman’s garage. Twice a year he services each of them from hook to haft, and twice a year he carefully loads them into his truck for the trip to Empire Junction. When Camp Comfort is in session, Tom rises each morning before the sun, walks down the trail to the still, dark pond and personally sees that each pole is ready to occupy small, tentative hands.

“A child fishing in the morning in the mountain air is happy.”

“The Fisherman” is surely an apt enough title for Tom Gill, and it’s one he’s proud to wear. But no mere name, not even one bestowed by the grateful children of Camp Comfort, is adequate to tell Tom’s tale. First and foremost, he’s a buddy, and he’s been a buddy longer than any other in the program’s history. Tom’s been a buddy to dozens of heart-broken campers over the last 18 years, and he’ll doubtless offer his quiet strength, consolation, comfort and encouragement to many, many more in the years to come.

“I do it because I like seeing the changes between when they arrive and when they leave,” Tom says. “There’s a transition there. They relax. They open up about their grief, and they start to have a good time.”

One might suspect Tom can find it hard saying goodbye to his little buddies year after year, and one would be right. But if he ever starts feeling blue about it, he need only remember that bright Saturday morning in June a few years back when a brand-new Camp Comfort volunteer buddy introduced himself to the Fisherman.

“He said ‘Do you remember me? I’m John. You were my buddy back at Camp Santa Maria.’ He told me he always remembered Camp Comfort as a good place, full of good people, and that he always wanted to come back someday and be part of it.”

Did the Fisherman remember his little buddy from all those years ago?

“I remembered him alright,” Tom smiles. “He ran my socks off.”

kane-volKathleen Kane

Like a lot of people, Brook Forest resident Kathleen Kane works with her hands.

Unlike carpenters, artists and mechanics, however, it’s not always easy to see the very good work Kathleen does. She’s a licensed massage therapist who, for the last 13 years, has donated much of her time, talent and healing touch to Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice, and her extensive body of work can be measured only in suffering relieved and hearts eased.

Born in Salt Lake City, Kathleen was 10 years old when her parents moved their four daughters and two sons one state east to the green and peaceful Applewood neighborhood at the foot of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It was Colorado that Kathleen came to regard as home, and it was here that she met, and married, a promising young law student named Michael Kane.

The ink was still damp on Mike’s sheepskin when he was offered a job in his own home state of Iowa, and the Kane’s ventured north to the modest hamlet of Maquoketa, a green and peaceful assembly of 6,000 souls sandwiched between Davenport and Dubuque. While Mike was busy building his career, Kathleen was busy managing a growing household. It was in Maquoketa that she was first introduced to the discipline that would become her calling.

“The grade school was run by Franciscan nuns, and the principal was Sister Margaret,” Kathleen recalls. “She once told me she’d always wanted to learn massage therapy. At the time, I didn’t even know what that was.”

Sister Margaret filled her in, though, and Kathleen found the idea compelling.

“It caught my interest. Mike thought I was a little bit Looney Tunes, but I was drawn to it. I liked anatomy and physiology, and I liked learning about the body and what I could do to help it heal.”

The nearest place to Maquoketa where such things were taught happened to be the Carlson College of Massage Therapy in Cedar Rapids, more than an hour away. As very good luck would have it, another of Maquoketa’s fine citizens enrolled in Carlson’s intensive six-month course at the same time Kathleen did, and their commute became the most productive part of their rigorous school day.

“I had kids at home and not much time to study,” Kathleen smiles. “We carpooled, and while one would drive the other one would quiz them. That long drive twice a day turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.”

For several years Kathleen practiced massage therapy out of her Iowa house, but when the last of the couple’s four children left the nest she began to feel the gentle pull of Colorado calling her home. Although she wasn’t expecting much when she broached the subject with Mike, to her enduring surprise he liked the idea just fine. In 1999 the Kanes hung their flag in Evergreen, and the dawn of the new millennium saw Kathleen plying her craft both for private clients in her home and Mount Evans patients wherever they needed her to be.

These days, Kathleen sees about 20 clients a week, some of them on a volunteer basis for Mount Evans. And if the basic principles of massage therapy apply in both cases, the work she does for free is often the most rewarding.

“Most of my patients are suffering head and neck pain, but with Mount Evans the variety is huge,” explains Kathleen. “It can be disconcerting when you walk into a patient’s room because you never know what to expect. I spend a lot of time up on people’s beds because they can’t get out of them. Some are dying, and ‘comfort touch’ is all they can take. But I learn something from each and every patient. They teach me about keeping the right attitude, and how to live life.”

And whatever a patient’s ailment, and by whichever method she is able to help them, Kathleen’s healing hands are just as adept at soothing afflicted spirits as aching muscles.

“Massage therapy goes way beyond the physical body,” she explains. “The physical, emotional and spiritual aspects are all intertwined.”

 

HankThresherLongtime mountain-area resident and home-health volunteer Hank Thresher has never shrunk from a challenge.

Born in Providence, R.I., at the tender age of five it became Hank’s practice to test his young legs against those of the local high school boys. “I was their mascot,” Hank says. “I’d run with them every day after kindergarten got out.”

His need for speed followed him to Garden City, on New York’s Long Island, where his family moved when he was 10. With a big head-start in track and field, Hank went on to become Garden City’s first high school All-American athlete, setting records in both the 100- and 220-yard dashes. To this day, Garden City High School bestows the Henry Thresher Award upon its most outstanding runners. Graduating in 1949, Hank took his fleet feet to Yale University, again setting records in the 100 and 220 – school records that have yet to be broken.

“At the time I was considered the second-fastest amateur sprinter in the country,” says Hank, without a shred of conceit.

By 1951, Hank was in training for the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki when an ancient scourge shattered his momentum. He contracted polio.

“It paralyzed my right leg. I spent five months in a Catholic institution, and spent my freshman year being tutored because I couldn’t walk to class.”

The challenge was immense, but so was Hank’s resolve. He was back on the track by his sophomore year, and was soon training for the 1956 games in Melbourne. When a pulled Achilles tendon slammed the brakes on his Olympic hopes for a second time, he took the set-back stoically.

“I thought, ‘I gave it my best shot. I guess it’s time to try something different.”

Something different turned out to be managing all of the telephone exchanges in Brooklyn and Queens. In the era of switchboard operators and “number, please,” that post held challenges not found elsewhere.

“I had 1,400 people working for me,” Hank grins. “1,397 women, and three men.”

One of those women was a subordinate manager named Gail Moloney, with whom he developed a strong friendship, although not a romance. His heart was already given to his wife, Geraldine, who gave him unstinting support and three fine sons.

In 1980, Hank was challenged to head up AT&T’s national training organization in Lakewood. He accepted, of course, and the family eventually settled in Turkey Creek Canyon.

Hank lost Geraldine to cancer in 1993. As it happened, he found an important source of comfort and consolation in his old friend, Gail Moloney, who’d made the move West in 1978. Hank and Gail married five years later, and together they took on the sad and difficult challenge of caring for Gail’s aged and ailing parents. Thankfully, it was a challenge they didn’t have to face alone.

“We were both still working, and her parents needed physical therapy, occupational therapy, respite care, and just plain companionship. Mount Evans [Home Health & Hospice] was a godsend. Without them we would’ve been up Saw Creek.”

In retirement, Hank sought fresh challenges. “I did some consulting, and even tried my hand as a private investigator. But I didn’t like carrying a gun, and I’m not as fast as I used to be,” he laughs. Still determined to be of constructive use, he remembered the debt he felt toward Mount Evans. “I thought ‘you know, I guess it’s pay-back time.”

Curiously enough, the challenge of becoming a Mount Evans volunteer was among the most daunting of Hank’s life.

“I had a lot of anxiety,” he recalls. “I didn’t have any medical training, and I didn’t really know that much about caring for sick and dying people.” Fortunately, Mount Evans knows just how to prepare its volunteers for the challenges that come with the job. “I took the training, which eliminated a lot of my anxiety. They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. I had total support from Mount Evans all the way from A to Z.”

Fifteen years later, Hank’s still paying back. When he’s not driving someone where they need to go, he’s at LifeCare Center spending time with somebody who could use a friend, or, as a Eucharistic minister, bringing the Catholic Communion to a person who can’t get it any other way. And when he’s not doing something to help a client, he’s doing something to help a new volunteer.

“I give group talks to new recruits,” Hank says. “I try to take them under my wing and show them the ropes.”

And, at 81, he looks forward to plenty of new challenges ahead.

“How much longer will I volunteer? I walk about a mile a day, and I do my own shoveling. As long as I’m in good health, I’ll keep volunteering.”

To find out more about volunteer opportunities at Mt. Evans, select the “Volunteers” tab, or call Heather Boor, volunteer coordinator, at 303-674-6400.
Mt. Evans Volunteer Spotlight January 2013Pam Reitan has been both “quiet” and “loud” in her support of Mt. Evans

Longtime foothills resident Pam Reitan has many interests and remarkable energy.

A talented landscape painter, her interest in art finds her a frequent guest at the Center for the Arts Evergreen. Her interest in musical theater makes hers a familiar face under the lights at Center Stage. Her interest in skiing regularly lifts Pam and her husband, Terry, into Colorado’s upper stories, and the Reitans’ shared interests in travel and diving may find the couple plumbing deep secrets in bright waters anywhere from Aruba to the Red Sea. But it’s Pam’s interest in serving her community that consumes the greater part of her prodigious energies. For more than 20 years she’s been among the most energetic of Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice’s many devoted volunteers.

“That’s where my heart is,” says Pam, simply.

Born in the small farming community of Aurora a few miles outside Grand Island, Neb., Pam soon moved with her family to Shenandoah, Iowa, another small farming town about 100 miles to the east. It was while studying music education and art illustration about halfway between the two at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln that she met the engaging young fellow who, 43 years ago, became her husband.

Terry’s career brought the couple out West in the mid-1970s. The Reitans settled first in Greystone, on Upper Bear Creek, then on Lookout Mountain, and finally at Spring Ranch, just east of El Rancho. Along the way they welcomed a beautiful daughter, Serena, and then a handsome son-in-law, and later a precious granddaughter. While Terry’s professional fortunes prospered, Pam turned her gifted hands to the graphic arts, most notably creating some of the striking images displayed across the country on the broad sides of U-Haul rolling stock. And it was the shadow of tragedy that first kindled Pam’s interest in Mount Evans.

“A friend of mine had a daughter who was diagnosed with terminal cancer,” Pam says. “As a parent I could see what a horrible thing that could be, and I had to do something to show the family I was grieving with them.

“Mount Evans was such an aid to the family throughout the illness and after her death. I wanted to train as a respite volunteer so I could help them do what they do. I saw firsthand how important it is for caregivers to have a little time away, just to take a breath and relax for a moment. I took the training and became a respite caregiver.”

Pam’s respite days ended a few years ago when she found herself on caregiving’s front lines, caring first for her mother-in-law, and then her mother. And as she had given, so did she receive.

“Mount Evans assisted me with both. They provided in-home nursing and medical care, and counseling for me. They had all kinds of resources I could draw on for information, advice and encouragement.”

Since then, Pam’s interest in art has proved a boon to Mount Evans. She’s long been a driving force behind the Mount Evans Angels, and devotes untold energy to the organization’s annual benefit gala at Mount Vernon Country Club.

“I love the benefit,” she beams. “It’s ‘Pirates!’ this year. We’ll turn Mount Vernon into a totally different world.”

But if turning wire and fabric into graceful angels and tropical lagoons are Pam’s joy, helping Mount Evans perform its countless essential functions is still her love.

“There are so many levels and layers to Mount Evans that people don’t know about. I’m a loud volunteer, because everybody sees what I do. Respite volunteers are quiet volunteers. Nobody sees what they do, or how important it is. There are so many ways to get involved.”

 

Giving large – Bob and Joy Poirot give new meaning to ‘community spirit’

By Stephen Knapp

Mt. Evans and Evergreen community volunteers Bob and Joy PoirotVolunteers are the vital core of any community. They’re the thoughtful heads that give it purpose, the willing hands that mold its contours, and the generous hearts that elevate its character.

For an excellent example of that class of quiet community campaigner, one needn’t look farther than the pine-girt Upper Bear Creek home of Bob and Joy Poirot, who’ve been setting the standard for neighborliness in the mountain area since 1964.

“They’re just very giving people,” says Judy Tersteeg, former volunteer director for Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice. “Whenever I see them, they’re giving of themselves.”

That’s high praise coming from Tersteeg, who spent the better part of nine years coordinating the benevolent energies of up to 600 of Evergreen’s most giving souls. For their part, the Poirots are more comfortable standing in the shadows of the institutions they support.

“Most of what we do is through other organizations,” explains Bob, a retired Army brigadier with a general’s focus and a private’s humility. “We’re just happy to help out.”

In fact, it would be hard to name a local organization the Poirots haven’t helped out. Through the Knights of Columbus they support the many charitable programs undertaken by Christ the King Catholic Church. Through Evergreen Kiwanis, they lend their spirit and sweat to dozens of worthy causes, everything from Alpine Rescue to the Senior Resource Center, for which Bob volunteers as a driver. Through both official and unofficial Clear Creek County channels they’ve advocated for everything from Guanella Pass Road improvements to the Beaver Brook Watershed. And when they see a need that isn’t directly addressed by a local organization, the Poirots don’t miss a beat.

“I started a satellite club at Kiwanis to help SRC,” says Bob. “We clean up the yards of seniors who can no longer do it themselves.” The Poirots even found a way to make cleaning up their own 20-acre yard benefit the larger mountain community. “Last year we donated about 20 Christmas trees and about 15 cords of firewood to Evergreen Christian Outreach.”

While Joy doesn’t claim to be much with a log splitter, she’s handy with an ice cream scoop and regularly dishes up sweet kindnesses at Evergreen Life Care Center. And while their sociable Shih Tzu, Bruiser, is useless with an ice cream scoop, he’s a master at dishing up “kissies” to Life Care residents on those many days when he and Joy come a-visiting.

“Many of them will ask me to put Bruiser in bed with them,” Joy smiles, “It’s very healing.”

But, as Tersteeg doubtless suspects, it’s Mount Evans that reaps the greatest share of the Poirots’ altruistic inclinations. Bob spent six years on its board, working hard to expand Mount Evans reach to the mountain area’s most vulnerable residents and put its essential programs on a more sure financial footing. Joy spends many hours each month assembling the thick patient packets that greet each new client. And both are among the most familiar of faces at every MEH fundraising event from the Dam Ducky Derby to the Triple Bypass.

“Joy ran the Freedom Run this year, and immediately went and worked on something else,” says Tersteeg. “On the Fourth of July. That’s the kind of people they are.”

If you ask the Poirots, they’ll tell you they’re simply the kind of people their parents raised them to be.

“In the small farming community where I grew up, my dad was kind of the unofficial veterinarian for the area,” Bob says. “He was still delivering calves when he was 90 years old. Volunteerism was instilled in us.”

“If everybody would just do what they’re able to, when they’re able to, the world would be a better place,” says Joy. “There’s such a need for it, and you don’t have to look far to find a way to help.”

 

Judy Tersteeg

by Stephen Knapp

judy TersteegWhen Evergreen resident Judy Tersteeg has the time, she likes to travel. She likes to walk the wooded ways around her North Evergreen home. She likes to swim laps at the Buchanan Rec pool, and play a few sets of tennis at the Evergreen Sports Center. But if Judy doesn’t always have time to indulge in those simple pursuits, it’s because she gives so much of it away in service to her mountain-area neighbors.

“Judy’s the perfect volunteer,” says Kathy Engel, executive director of Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice, which organization accounts for the greater part of Judy’s discretionary time. “She always asks ‘What can I do to help?’”

Growing up with her brother in little Redwood Falls, Minn., some two hours west of the Twin Cities, Judy was ever finding ways to get involved. A proud Redwood Valley High School ‘Cardinal,’ she sang in the choir and piped a flute in the band, and when her active nature found no competitive outlet she gladly donned the red and black uniform of a Redwood Valley cheerleader.

“It was really the only choice,” she recalls. “Back then they didn’t have sports for teenage girls.”

Upon graduation, Judy set her sights on a career in child care and enrolled at all-woman Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. As it happened, her plan to one day run a nursery school ran into a decidedly happy obstacle.

“I got married, instead,” she smiles. “Glenn also grew up in Redwood Falls, and we’d been on exactly eight dates together. We got engaged over the phone. We’ve been married for 48 years.”

The young couple eventually landed in Honoeye Falls, a scenic village in upstate New York. While Glenn was busy developing a bright career with Eastman Kodak Co., Judy found satisfying work in a local doctor’s office. In time they increased their contentment by a factor of two – daughters Beth, now a senior vice president with Armani Exchange, and Patricia, a talented equine veterinarian.

“After the girls grew up we wanted to go someplace else,” Judy says. “My dad grew up in Colorado Springs. Beth was going to CU in Boulder, and she said, ‘You gotta’ live in Evergreen.’”

Judy and Glenn took one look at Evergreen and agreed with their daughter. They settled in The Ridge in 1995, and Judy immediately started looking for ways to get involved in her new community.

“My father was a funeral director, and having worked in a doctor’s office I knew I wanted to do something in that field. I saw an ad in the paper for Mount Evans, and it just clicked.”

It did a lot more than that.

“Judy’s the only person at Mount Evans who’s served as an employee, a volunteer and a board member,” Engel says.

These days, much of Judy’s time is spent working with Camp Comfort volunteers, heading up Mount Evans’ auction committee and co-coordinating the Angel project. Perhaps most notably, when the organization recently found itself shy a full-time volunteer coordinator, Judy threw herself into the breach until a replacement could be hired. “She saved the agency by stepping in as a volunteer for six weeks,” says Engel. “She’s given way, way above what we would ask of anybody, volunteer or employee.”

For her part, Judy reserves her admiration for the community that comes through for Mount Evans time and time again.

“People want to give,” she says. “I get goosebumps sometimes when I think of what people give for the benefit of Mount Evans.”

 

Bev Bright

by Stephen Knapp

Longtime volunteer gratefully reaps what she has sown

Bev Bright spent most of her life doing for others. Now, at 81, she must let others do for her. And others are grateful for the opportunity.

“Bev is just wonderful,” says Sallie Wandling of Mt. Evans Home Health and Hospice. “She’s done so much for us over the years, and now it’s our turn to be there for her.”

Bev certainly is wonderful, and gracious and warm and quick to smile. When she listens, she gives nothing less than absolute attention. When she speaks, she reveals a kindly heart and lively curiosity. When conversation turns to Evergreen, her eyes sparkle like sunlight on water.

“This has been my home for 40 years,” Bev says. “It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.”

Bev and her husband, Jay, settled in a breezy prairie-style house atop a woody Hiwan Hills height in 1972. If their new home in the West offered fewer cosmopolitan diversions than the Chesapeake, the active pair had few chances to notice. More often than not, winter weekends were spent slipping down high passes on cross-country skis, and summer ones exploring the Rocky Mountains’ stately peaks, mysterious valleys, and robust pioneering history. Three children filled their cup of happiness to overflowing, and while Jay rose quickly within the ranks of the United States Forest Service, Bev turned her energies toward their community.

“My heart was always with education,” says Bev. “I was a teacher’s assistant at Evergreen Junior High for 14 years. I discovered that I needed something to occupy my time – something I could dedicate myself to.”

For a time, Bev dedicated herself to the Jefferson County Historical Society’s painstaking “living history” project, carefully plumbing the memories of the mountain-area’s eldest residents, and recording them for future generations.

“I loved that. I met so many interesting people, and heard so many interesting stories. And I learned so much I never knew about Evergreen.”

But the full measure of Bev’s remarkable dedication wasn’t realized until one day more than 30 years ago when a small advertisement in the local paper caught her eye. A brand-new and still-struggling Mt. Evans Hospice was looking for volunteers.

“Hospice was something important, and I wanted to help,” Bev recalls. “I didn’t really think I had any skills they would need, but I called (then-director) Louisa Walthers anyway. She brought me on to write thank-you notes and sympathy cards.”

Thousands of area families have received heartfelt thanks from Bev’s artistic hand in 30 years’ time, and many more have been comforted by its sincere condolences. When Bev wasn’t busy inscribing Mt. Evans’ voluminous correspondence, she was busy mailing it. And when she ran out of letters to write and stamps to lick, she made Mt. Evans Angels, or visited patients, or dedicated herself to any other service that needed a helping hand.

“I usually volunteered about one day a week, but I stuffed a lot into that day,” she says. “I feel so lucky that I found Mt. Evans. The people I worked with were wonderful, and it was a place I could really devote myself to.”

The years sped by all too quickly. The Bright children graduated from Evergreen High School and charted new courses of their own. John did a hitch in the Army. Melanie eventually found her way to the island of Crete, where she still lives. Eric became a successful dairy farmer in Missouri. In time, five grandchildren would arrive to soak up all the doting affection adoring grandparents could supply.

Jay’s career took him all over the world, and Bev accompanied him to distant assignments in Europe, Africa and the South Pacific. And each time they returned to Evergreen, Bev thanked Providence and Mt. Evans for the opportunity to repay her many blessings with good works performed on behalf of her mountain neighbors. She was by nature inclined to give. It wasn’t until 1992 that she first gave thought to what she might receive.

In that year, Jay was on assignment in Taiwan when a powerful typhoon struck the island. Caught in open country, he and a handful of co-workers were struck down by the storm. In the blink of an eye, Bev was suddenly, terribly, irrevocably alone, and facing a solitary life in the empty nest that she and her husband intended for two.

“I was devastated. I didn’t know how I was going to go on.”

Bev turned to Mt. Evans for help, and Mt. Evans gave her all it had to give. In the process, Bev begin to discover, with painful clarity, the real importance of the organization to which she’d dedicated herself so many years before.

“Hospice helped me immensely,” says Bev, earnestly. “I took the bereavement counseling course, and it was a Godsend. In fact, I came back and took it again the next year. I guess I didn’t know what I needed. But they did.”

Mt. Evans again knew what Bev needed when, last year at the age of 80, she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a painful and debilitating condition. For starters, she needed physical therapy, and Mt. Evans arranged for a therapist skilled in combating her ailment’s worst effects. Bev needed someone to take her to doctor appointments and keep track of her medications. Mt. Evans located the kind and capable caregivers who comes by several times a week to make sure Bev never falls behind on her course of treatment. Bev needed someone to cook for her, and help her bathe, and keep her home on the hill tidy and in good working order. Mt. Evans saw to it all. Perhaps most importantly, at least to Bev’s way of thinking, her old friends and comrades at Mt. Evans have seen to it that she need never feel alone.

“They drop by to talk all the time,” she explains. “The companionship is the best thing. Just having someone in the house to talk to is comforting to me.”

If Bev’s condition can be mitigated, it won’t be cured, and her children have asked her to move nearer Eric and his family in Missouri. Their plan makes perfect sense, and Bev expects to find much to love about her new home in the Ozarks, but that doesn’t mean she’s in any hurry to start packing. Half of her life – the best half, she thinks – was lived in Evergreen. It’s where she and Jay made a home and raised their children. It’s where she found friendship, and community, and an absorbing purpose. It’s where she knew hope and love and loss and healing. And it’s where she can witness daily the essential goodness of the organization to which she dedicated so much of her heart and energy. But it’s telling of Bev’s natural humility that she’s less inclined to recall the many ways in which she served Mt. Evans than to speak gratefully of the many ways in which she has been served.

“Mt. Evans does a great service to me, and to this community,” she says. “It’s been such an important part of my life. I’ll always miss it.”

Don BennettDon Bennett

A passion to contribute – volunteer Don Bennett brings essential skills to Mount Evans’ aid
by Stephen Knapp

While the computer age has made keeping track of Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice’s thousands of patients, legions of donors and army of volunteers faster, more efficient, and more accurate than ever before, computers can be a contrary breed and expensive to train. Happily, when Mount Evans needs someone to take their electronic stock in hand, they can rely on tech-savvy volunteer Don Bennett.

“Don’s a joy to work with,” says Rita Rice, the nonprofit’s chief database wrangler. “Whatever needs to be done, he can step right in and do it.”

As it happens, Don’s exceptional rapport with computers is purely avocational. Born in Tucumcari, NM, he expected he’d one day take over his father’s small car dealership. A few years later, the Bennetts traded in their small New Mexico town for one in Utah.

“I started school in a one-room schoolhouse,” he says.

As Don grew, so did his dreams, and in time he was accepted to the Colorado School of Mines, earning a chemical engineering degree that he soon put to work in an unexpected way. With Cold War tensions reaching the boiling point in Berlin, he did the only sensible thing.

“I was about to get drafted, so I enlisted instead.”

Commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Chemical Corps, he eventually landed in Louisiana, training soldiers to recognize and combat chemical and nuclear agents. It was a lucky post, and not only because it kept him on home soil. It’s where he met Gloria, the woman who would become his wife.

When his hitch was up, Don signed on with Shell Oil Company and took up station on the Gulf Coast. He wouldn’t muster out of that outfit for 33 years, during which time he and Gloria raised a fine son and two lovely daughters. He developed a passion for photography, and became handy with lathe and plane. Lots of the Bennetts’ furniture originated in Don’s workshop, and he’s got in mind to replicate a five-book reading stand designed by Thomas Jefferson. And if none of that appears to account for Don’s cyber-chops, it’s because it doesn’t.

“I just happen to like computers and computer software,” he smiles. “When I first saw email, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Their children grown and flown, in 1999 the Bennetts settled in North Evergreen and Don jumped into his new community with both feet.

“When I was working I did practically no volunteer work,” he says. “Between job and family, I just didn’t have the time. Now that I have the time, if I can make a contribution, I will.”

Don contributed to ENABLE, and to NEAT, and when a friend mentioned the volunteer opportunities available at Mount Evans, he became a willing recruit.

“I’m so impressed by the things they do. They’re angels on Earth as far as I’m concerned.”

Don’s done his share of yeoman’s work for Mount Evans, like pushing a broom at the Triple Bypass, but he makes his most valuable contributions while seated at a desk.

“I started doing input on a registry for the donor database, and then I spent about 40 hours conducting an inventory of all the school districts in Colorado for Camp Comfort. Lately I’ve been helping enter donations into QuickBooks.”

And while data entry is definitely helpful, it’s when the data refuses to be entered that Bennett earns his gold stars.

“Sometimes the software won’t do what they want it to do,” Don explains, simply. “I’m usually able to get it working right.”

To Rita Rice, it’s simply not as simple as that.

“Not only does Don do all these things, he comes up with better ways to do them,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t know what we’d do without him.”