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Volunteers needed for hospice care

Mark Wiita, Betty Braunstein and Greg Tiburzi share their love for music with St. Luke's hospice patients. They are part of a small group of hospice volunteer musicians. (Submitted photo)

Something clicked when Mike Hoffman met Dorothy Geske. The two shared a taste for split pea soup, swapping stories and cooking.

"We'd go out for walks, I would cook dinner for her, she made fudge special for me," said Hoffman, 67. "We were just friends really."

Hoffman spent a little over a year visiting with Geske as a St. Luke's Hospice volunteer. It was very rewarding, he said. "We had a wonderful time."

The Superior woman refused to eat garlic, went to the same church where Hoffman's father had been baptized, and had never learned to drive a car. Instead, she rode the bus to and from work at the Duluth Walgreens.

When Hoffman, a veteran, found out Geske's brother was killed and buried in France during World War II, he contacted Capt. John Marshall of the Duluth Honor Guard to get her brother's Purple Heart and campaign medals sent to Geske.

"It was very touching and quite gratifying that she had closure," said Hoffman, who lives in Two Harbors. Geske was the first hospice patient Hoffman ever worked with. She was 103 when she passed away and had no family living close by. But she had Hoffman.

"We liked being together," he said. "Sometimes you don't even have to talk; you can just enjoy sitting there."

From offering a listening ear to sharing the gift of music, St. Luke's Hospice volunteers are making a difference in patients' lives every day.

Marilyn Fifield, the hospice volunteer coordinator for St. Luke's, said she has a variety of people helping hospice patients scattered within a 40-mile radius of the Twin Ports -- and there is no typical volunteer.

"I have all kinds of ages," she said. "I have college age students up to 80-year-olds; retired people, working people, students, people getting married in a couple of months."

Volunteers typically give two to four hours of time per week, although Fifield works with snowbirds and those who spend summer at the cabin, so the opportunities are extremely flexible.

"It takes as much time as whoever does it wants to give," Hoffman said.

Typical volunteers are looking to pay back kindness or pay it forward.

"Most volunteers are not into it for rewards or thanks," Fifield said. "They are just very giving people."

A visit could include a game of pinochle, a trip to the grocery store, mowing the lawn, reading a book, cutting a patient's hair or just sitting and holding their hand. Volunteers who play music are always in demand.

"I hope I can find a place for anybody who wants to volunteer," Fifield said.

Volunteers are needed, especially in the Superior area. People can give as much or as little time as they want -- and know they are making a huge difference in the lives of the hospice patients and families they help.

Many people out there don't have anybody, Hoffman said.

"I can't think of anything much worse than spending your last days alone," he said. "Many of them do."

Since Geske's death, the Two Harbors man has worked with three other patients for short periods, but none has left as big an impression as her. He recalled her laughter when Social Security called occasionally to check if she was still alive, and the fine china she set out for their St. Patrick's Day meal of corned beef and cabbage.

"She really was wonderful," Hoffman said.

Volunteers must be 18 or older. They are given 10-12 hours of education before starting with their first patient.

While some of the hospice patients have been diagnosed with a form of cancer, others have a range of diagnoses, including congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases.

For more information or to volunteer, call Fifield at 218-249-6105 or email