One Vet’s Story: 193 Days in Combat Across Europe

Ray Kratzke landed on Utah Beach just after the D-Day invasion and spent the next 193 days fighting the Germans until they surrendered. This is his story.

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Ecumen Director Barbara Garrity Graduates From LeadingAge Leadership Program

Barbara Garrity, executive director of Ecumen-managed Pelican Valley Health Center in Pelican Rapids, Minn., has graduated from the year-long LeadingAge Minnesota Leadership Academy.

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Pelican Valley Health Center Receives $65,000 Grant for New High-Tech Alert System From Otto Bremer Foundation

The Pelican Valley Health Center, managed by Ecumen, has received a $65,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation to purchase a new state-of-the-art system to alert staff when residents need assistance.

The system operates with wireless technology and can be used throughout the care center.  Residents wear a small pendant and simply press a button if they need assistance.  The alerts sound on iPods carried by staff, giving the exact location of the caller.

“We are so very grateful to the Otto Bremer Foundation for making this new system possible for us,” said Executive Director Barbara Garrity.  “It’s the very best technology available, and it will dramatically shorten staff response time and improve our quality of care.”

Garrity said the system, to be purchased from Intelligent InSites and installed in the next two or three months, promises to bring added security both to residents and staff.  Residents can walk around freely, knowing that staff can respond quickly to a problem, she said, and staff can feel confident they can immediately find residents calling for assistance.

 About the Otto Bremer Foundation

Created in 1944, the Otto Bremer Foundation assists people in achieving full economic, civic and social participation in and for the betterment of their communities. This mission is based on the intent of founder Otto Bremer. His vision and longstanding commitment to communities during and after the Great Depression are carried forward today through the Foundation’s work in the places that are homes and neighbors to Bremer banks. The Foundation strives to help build healthy, vibrant communities — communities where basic needs are met, mutual regard is prized and opportunities for economic, civic and social participation are within everyone's reach. The Otto Bremer Foundation owns 92 percent of Bremer Bank, and receives an equivalent share of the bank profits that are paid out as dividends. This means that a large portion of bank profit is invested back in local communities through grants and program-related investments. In 2013 the Foundation provided approximately $38 million in grants and program-related investments.

Althea Maloney, Ecumen Detroit Lakes, Ecumen Century Club

Ecumen Director Barbara Garrity Selected for Statewide Leadership Program

 Barbara Garrity, executive director of Ecumen-managed Pelican Valley Health Center in Pelican Rapids, Minn., has been selected to attend the year-long Aging Services of Minnesota Leadership Academy.

The academy, now in its fifth year, is a comprehensive development program to hone the leadership skills of emerging leaders in the aging services field.  Aging Services of Minnesota is the state’s largest association of organizations serving Minnesota seniors.

Garrity, who has been with Ecumen almost two years, will begin the year-long program May 20 and will spend 10-15 hours a month on academy activities.  She is one of 33 fellows selected from across the state in a wide variety of aging services occupations.

“Academy fellows represent a new generation of transformation leaders in aging services — leaders that will not just respond to the changing times but who will also drive positive change for their organizations and the aging services community,” according to Aging Services of Minnesota. “They will embark on a rigorous journey of self-reflection, leadership theory, critical skill development and action learning.”

Before becoming executive director at Pelican Valley Health Center, Garrity was admissions and marketing director at ManorCare in Fargo, N.D., a long-term and short-stay care center. She has also worked at Bethany Retirement Living in Fargo as a Certified Nursing Assistant and Certified Medication Assistant for two years and as a care manager for Sunrise Cottages, an assisted living for people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease in Rochester, Minn., for three years.

 Garrity also was a television reporter and producer for Valley News Live (KVLY) in Fargo.  She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

“I’m really looking forward to this program,” Garrity said.  “It’s an opportunity to learn from some of the best mentors in aging services and to focus on new and innovative ways of making life better for our residents.”

Director of Nursing Maria Stokka To Retire After 35 Years at Ecumen’s Pelican Valley Health Center

 For the past 35 years, Maria Stokka has been coming to work as the director of nursing at Ecumen-managed Pelican Valley Health Center, providing care to the families of Pelican Rapids. On February 28, 2014, she will retire from this job that has intricately connected her with the lives of the 2,500 people who make this northwestern Minnesota community home.

“When you have done a job like this for 35 years, you’ve taken care of more than one generation,” Maria says. “You get to know families and extended families at some of the most important times in their lives.  They are your neighbors — and sometimes your relatives.”

In fact, Maria’s mother was in the care center here, and her husband’s mother and father both were here.

When Maria, originally from Fairmount, N.D., graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Fargo, she didn’t envision a career in long-term care nursing.  She and her husband moved to Pelican Rapids and there was a job open at another care center, where she worked for five years until her first child was born.  After that, she started working nights at Pelican Valley Health Center and was quickly promoted to director of nursing.

“Once I was in it, I had no desire to do any other type of nursing,” she says.  “This is so much more personal.  You know the residents.  You know their families.  And you’re there for them at some of the most important times in their lives.”

Barbara Garrity, the Executive Director at Pelican Valley Health Care, says working with Maria “has been an absolute honor.”

“She is so easy to work with and always does her job with the residents’ well-being in mind,” Barbara says. “She is also an exceptional, hands-on leader, and the staff has the utmost respect for her.”

The respect is mutual.  Maria describes her management style as a team approach. “It takes the whole team to get the job done right,” she says.  “No one job is more important than another, and everyone has something to offer.  I respect and appreciate what others do. And I remind them that what they do is really important.”

And that outlook has led to some incredible employment histories for the nursing department.  Several other nursing department staff members, including Maria’s sister, have more than 30 years of service at Pelican Valley. “The longevity of the staff here can be largely attributed to Maria’s leadership,” Barbara says.

Maria says she strives to always be open, honest and fair. “I don’t sugar coat.  I don’t overreact. I talk things through and encourage others to do the same.”

So why retire now?  “I want to leave while I’m on top of my game,” Maria says. 

She plans to spend time traveling with her husband, Jerome, who is now retired.  They have a son and a daughter in the area and four grandchildren, who she will now be spending more time with. 

In her spare time, Maria does crafts like beadwork and embroidery and also likes crosswords and reading.

Will she miss the job she has been doing for the past 35 years?  “Oh, I’m sure there will be a big void,” Maria says.  “But I’m not leaving the community.  I’ll still be seeing everybody.”

Ecumen Trustee Anne Simpson’s Journey Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer’s

Anne Simpson, who joined the Ecumen Board of Trustees in 2013, was caregiver to her husband, Bob, as they fought his battle with Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body Dementia that ended in 2011. Her book, Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer’s chronicles their experience with a focus on helping others who must take the same journey.

It is a poignant, painful, often funny, unvarnished memoir-in-real-time. Throughout the book, sadness is not overplayed, bitterness and anger not mitigated, joy in each other not abandoned, and hope for their future – together and beyond Bob’s eventual death – never beyond reach.  Both Bob and Anne were clearly committed to an honest account of this challenging time.   “It was just important for us to do that,” says Anne.

Anne and Bob forged their life together over the past four decades — he a United Church of Christ (UCC) minister, she the mother and homemaker for their blended family.  At the time they married, four of their six children were teenagers, the youngest was eight. 

From Grand Marais to Wayzata, St. Paul to Amery, Wisc., Bob led churches and the greater UCC organization.  On a farm in Amery they raised sheep while Bob served interim terms at UCC churches.  They retired to their favorite artsy, eclectic and caring community of Grand Marais, in 1993.  Within two years, Bob would begin his journey with Alzheimer’s, accompanied by his faithful partner, caregiver and friend. 

“It’s taken some time to re-define myself – who am I now that I’m not a caregiver?” Anne says. “I am energized now to engage others in conversations about the aging process.”  She is particularly interested in working with people who are working to improve the aging experience, enabling people with choices and  leading eventually to a gentle ending. 

 With longstanding Ecumen Trustee, the Rev. Kris Linner, Anne has written a companion curriculum to her book that teaches in practical terms the lessons she and Bob learned firsthand.  Through the curriculum and workshops, congregations can support their members who are experiencing Alzheimer’s — as caregivers or as those with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.  The curriculum is available from Huff Publishing Associates

Today Anne makes her home in a Grand Avenue condo in St. Paul.  You might find her out walking the neighborhood or at a nearby restaurant enjoying lunch or dinner with friends.  We are grateful that she is dedicating a portion of her free time and gracious energy to Ecumen. 

Anne’s poem “Autumn Sabbath,” below, captures the spirit of her journey with Bob:

 Put on your old wool hat, my love.

Come –

let’s walk uphill

where noon sun warms our shoulders and

summer ripeness lingers on the breeze…


…Drink deep with me the burgundy of oak,

sniff musk bouquet of birch Chablis,

then let us dip and swirl ‘til we are dizzy,

do-si-do with muffled steps on careless leaves. 


Forget neat piles that we have yet to rake,

the wood to stack, windows to be washed. 

Let’s be grasshoppers today

and ants, perhaps, tomorrow. 


We’ll let the dogs run free on rocky ground;

we’ll hear the birds call, watch them feed

and toast to their long journey

though they’ll pack the sun away. 


Put on your hiking boots, a jacket;

I’ll bring bread. 

Let me take your work-rough hand in mine. 

Stay out with me

until the sun goes down.