Comfort in the final days

Donated home turned into residential hospice facility 

Retired minister Wayne Smith sat at the table unwrapping caramels from their cellophane wrappers. It was a tedious task. The wrappers had to be peeled away carefully from the somewhat irregular shapes and Smith finally decided he needed a break. Mary Larson, wearing a cheery apron, stepped out of the kitchen where she was mixing ingredients and sat next to Smith to help out with the chore. “These wrappers stick,” she admitted as she carefully peeled them away from the caramels. The task was soon completed, the caramel was melted and drizzled and the smell of caramel bars and seven-layer bars baking eventually spread through the house. Pastor Smith and Larson, both of St. Cloud, are a volunteer team who spend their Tuesday mornings at Quiet Oaks Hospice House, located on a wooded, 10-acre site, just south of St. Cloud. Each has special responsibilities during their four-hour volunteer shift. Smith is a retired Presbyterian minister, who, over his lengthy career, had parishes in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and New Mexico. Larson is Smith’s home care aide. Smith grew up in Indiana. He met and married his wife, Allene, while they were in college. They celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last August. Smith said that he graduated in 1940 and after finishing the seminary, he and his wife moved to Bedford, Indiana where he served his first congregation. After five years there, they moved to Flint, Michigan where he became a Methodist minister for a number of years. He and his wife have four daughters. Smith served many churches over the years until his retirement in 1981. Following that, they spent some winters in Florida and Smith accepted some interim pastor positions. He and his wife moved to Minnesota in 2007 and two years ago, they moved in with their youngest daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Dan Whitlock of St. Cloud. When asked how he likes their living arrangement, Smith beamed, saying, “It couldn’t be better.” “My daughter thought I should do some volunteering,” Smith said, “ so we (Smith and Larson) started coming here to Quiet Oaks last spring.” He explained how he spends his volunteer time by saying, “ They told me, ‘You should talk to people.’ Talk can be appreciated. I think that’s my role.” He said he has more contact with the families who stay at or visit the home than with the residents. Smith is modest about his contributions to Quiet Oaks but he has much praise for the facility. “People have seen deer with their nose up against a window, a fire-red maple tree or a messy weed patch turn into a wildflower garden. This is a wonderful, quiet, beautiful place for people to spend some time during a hard stage of their lives,” he said. Mary Larson, the other half of the volunteer team, drives Smith to Quiet Oaks on Tuesday mornings for their shift. Her duties are primarily in the kitchen where she bakes cakes, bars and other goodies and makes lunch for anyone who is staying at the house. In addition to her cooking and baking skills, she has a knack for gardening, another activity which she does with Smith at his home. They also go to the mall to walk, shop, have lunch or do other activities so he can remain engaged in the community. It is quickly evident that the two have a close relationship. The Quiet Oaks Hospice House is the only residential hospice facility in Central Minnesota, according to Tammy Moore, Director of Marketing. The staff at the facility provide round-the-clock professional care and comfort for residents who are nearing the end of life. Additionally, family members, caretakers and friends are warmly welcomed into the home and cared for by staff and volunteers. Family members can stay overnight in one of the four guest bedrooms, eat their meals at the large dining room table, relax, and spend time with their loved one. There are porches, patios, gardens, a pond and walking paths through the oak woods. Because of large windows throughout the facility, residents and their families can enjoy the beauty of outdoors from inside the home. “Nature is very important here,” Moore said. “Miracles happen here every day. Families and caregivers are often so exhausted when their family member moves into Quiet Oaks. Here they have a chance to heal.” Smith added, “This place allows many people to see a chance to turn away from themselves and to live for others.” Moore said that the comment she most often hears is, “I wish we would have come sooner.” Moore said that Quiet Oaks relies on about 100 dedicated volunteers to help at the house from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. There are house volunteers who prepare meals, bake, clean or answer phones and volunteers who work outdoors and in the gardens. Some volunteers have professional skills which they bring to Quiet Oaks– like Pastor Wayne Smith. He may downplay his gifts but the Smith-Larson volunteer team makes a difference. “It’s people like Wayne and Mary that make Quiet Oaks feel like home for our residents and their families,” said Moore. “They are here to help in any way they can, whether it’s baking treats, making coffee or simply visiting and listening.” A unique aspect to this story is that the home and ten acres where the Quiet Oaks Hospice House sits was once the property of Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Dan Whitlock. “My wife and I celebrated our 65th wedding anniversary right there in the front yard under a white tent,” Smith explained. He would have never guessed that ten years later he would be doing volunteer work at the very same site. The Whitlocks gave their home and property to what is now known as Quiet Oaks in 2006, following the death of their 19-year-old nephew, Clay Malone. The Whitlocks, along with Joe and Mary Bauer and Pat and Bob Brown, all wanted a better alternative to hospice provided at home or in a nursing home. The Bauers lost Joe’s younger brother, Dan, to colon cancer at the age of 46. Dan died at his home in 2003. Pat and Bob Brown’s son, Luke, died of cancer at the age of 24. Luke died in a hospice facility in Wisconsin in 2004. These three families from St. Cloud had a vision for a facility that could provide professional care and comfort to individuals in their final days. They also wanted opportunities for the families to spend quality time together without the worries and overwhelming responsibilities of care giving. They wanted to bring a hospice facility to Central Minnesota. The planning and fund raising began. One big question was answered when the Whitlocks gave the gift of their home and property to be the site of the hospice house. In 2007, construction began on an addition to the original home for eight resident suites. The community was extremely supportive and hundreds of volunteers offered their time and their skills to make the hospice house a reality. After years of planning, fund raising and construction, the community celebrated when Quiet Oaks opened its doors in October, 2008. “It is a beautiful and a peaceful place,” said Pastor Smith. He then began walking down the hallway toward the resident suites. He had been asked to stop by and visit with someone. That is why he is here. When asked earlier if pastors ever really retire, Smith only smiled. The answer is clear. And, what a good thing that is.

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