St. Cloud woman has stayed positive despite significant life challenges
By NATALIE M. ROTUNDA
“When you can’t see the silver lining, trust that it’s there, and keep moving forward.” That is the life philosophy of Bobbie Hentges of St. Cloud. This philosophy was developed after several setbacks in her life, including a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and a severe exacerbation of the disease that left her partially paralyzed.
Bobbie grew up in the 1970s in the Iron Range town of Hibbing.
“The most significant thing about growing up is that I was a girl over six-feet tall,” she said. “I felt like a freak of nature all the time. But my parents instilled an amazing sense of confidence in me.” And good friends also helped.
Over summer vacations, Bobbie and her mother headed to their place on Lake Vermillion, “the lake of the red sunsets.”
“My dad joined us on weekends,” she said. “We loved it there.”
A nearby resort hired Bobbie during those summers. She cleaned cabins until she was old enough to “graduate” to bartending. There, “I learned more about people and dealing with people than anywhere else I’d been.” It was a learning experience and a turning point for her.
Bobbie spent four years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, earning a marketing degree. She worked at Sam’s Club and, on summer weekends, drove the 100 miles to her folks’ place and her bartending job.
Bobbie was leading a busy, healthy life until 1998, when her doctor gave her the news that she had MS. From then on, every three or four years, she suffered exacerbations lasting three to four weeks. Her doctor treated her with intravenous steroids, and life went on until the next exacerbation.
The time had come to pivot away from bartending . She took a job at Northwest Airlines in Chisholm as an agent for their new reservation center. She was later named supervisor, later manager. She was married during this time, and their union lasted until 2002.
Next, she took a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a customer service manager for a few years before returning to Minneapolis for a big, new opportunity as a customer service manager. She joined a team of 70 other Northwest managers. And she loved it.
“From a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond” is how she described her new work environment.
In 2006, Bobbie met Steve Hentges, who had been a Fed Ex courier for 20 years. A diagnosis of insulin-dependent diabetes meant the loss of his DOT license, so Fed Ex gave him a desk job – which he hated. They two were planning to wed in 2008.
Two years later, on Nov. 8, 2008, Bobbie reported to her job in Minneapolis at 6 a.m. About 30 minutes later, she suffered a severe exacerbation of her MS, paralyzing her from the neck down on her right side.
“My life before that was up and down, like everybody else’s, but that day was the turning point,” she recalled. “On that one day, I lost my beloved career, half of my income, and half of my physical ability.”
One thing that wasn’t lost was their wedding, which was scheduled days later. Despite having to move down the aisle in a wheelchair, Bobbie and Steve were married in front of family and friends
Bobbie stayed in the wheelchair for six weeks. Further recovery was gradual until, Bobbie said, “I got to the point I’m at now, and walk with a limp.”
Today, there are good days and bad days, but Bobbie endures.
“MS is very unpredictable,” Bobbie said. “Most people live a long and normal life. The thing with MS is, you really never know.”
Writer’s Note: I wondered how Bobbie, a friend, coped with the uncertainties MS brought into her life. Did she have a philosophy?
“No, I don’t,” she answered.
The next time we met, she greeted me with, “I have a life philosophy!” Lying awake for a few nights prior to this second meetup had given her time to mull over the idea. She actually did have a philosophy, she just hadn’t named it.
The philosophy is “When you can’t see the silver lining, trust that it’s there, and keep moving forward.”
“It’s not a new philosophy,” she said, “just new in that I had finally put it into words. It has helped me survive the rough things over the last 20 years, and, all the more, it gives me a deep appreciation for the good things in my life.”
What is the silver lining that she is talking about?
“The silver lining means that, if I hadn’t had that debilitating attack, Steve and I wouldn’t have moved to St. Cloud where he could leave the desk job he hated and return to courier work, which he loved. (Fed Ex used smaller vans in St. Cloud that didn’t require a DOT license.) The silver lining meant that we could keep my parents out of assisted living, which they had been considering,” she said.
Some people might call that silver lining making lemonade out of rotten lemons, but those words that have guided Bobbie were a mindset shift that ended up enriching her and Steve’s and her parents’ lives.
Finding that silver lining was sometimes difficult, but she always found it.
“The last eight years have been filled with blessings and tragedies,” Bobbie shared.
First the blessings...
With aging parents, Bobbie, Steve and Bobbie’s parents were thinking about alternatives to assisted living. They decided to pool their financial resources and buy a home with separate living spaces, all under one roof.
“We promised my parents that they would never have to live in a nursing home,” she said.
Bobbie loved the work she had to leave behind, but she needed something new to love and dig her teeth into. A good friend and board member of the Good Earth Food Co-op in St. Cloud recruited her to run for the board. Bobbie has been a board member for eight years, several of them as president, and she’s taken on the editorship of the Co-op’s newsletter.
And then the tragedies...
“In 2015, my dad passed away in home hospice after a 15-month illness,” she said. “In July 2019, Steve was diagnosed with cancer. Because of the severity of his diabetes, no treatment was available for him. In October, he passed away, never able to return home again, though we had hoped he could. And eight days less a year later, my mom passed away.”
Bobbie had a decision to make in the year following Steve’s death. What lay ahead for her? Of the options she considered, the one that won was staying right where she was.
“The main reason I stayed is because I love the Co-op, my medical providers, and my life here. The Co-op, itself, has become my community,” she said. “I also feel I have skills, and it gives me satisfaction to devote my time to the Co-op.”