Anne Diekmann, Director of Nursing, Ecumen of Litchfield

Jane’s Beautiful Birthday Dream Grows at Ecumen of Litchfield

Jane Magnuson rarely speaks.  She does not ask for much.

She is wheelchair bound.  And does not like to call attention to herself.

So it was particularly difficult to figure out what to do for her birthday.

But the staff at Ecumen of Litchfield was determined to find the best possible way to celebrate.

Jane is a hospice client.  This birthday is especially important.

Last year, Ecumen of Litchfield Hospice started the “EcuDreams” program to make dreams come true for clients in their last days.

Mary Buhr, the activity director, remembered that Jane loves flowers.  Judy Loecken, a hospice social worker, got busy hatching a plan with the team.

Yesterday morning Judy wheeled Jane from her room.  When they returned a short time later, a crowd of people were singing and showcasing Jane’s present.

It is a planter built just for her, full of flowers, to fit her room so she can wheel up to it and dig in the dirt.

Jane does not like crowds and commotion.  But yesterday she smiled and nodded, clearly very pleased.

“There was not a dry eye in the room,” said Sandy Doughtery, the clinical director.

All the materials, labor, dirt and plants were donated.  Dennis Gartner of Litchfield Building Center designed and built the custom planter.  Marilyn Rau was there from Stockmen’s Greenhouse, which donated the dirt and flowers.

Marilyn knelt down and told Jane: “If you don’t see your favorite flowers here, just let me know and we’ll fix that.” 

Everyone gathered for cupcakes.

Nicole Larson of the hospice staff knelt and fed Jane a cupcake.

Jane Magnuson turned 81 yesterday.  Today she will smell the flowers.




Activity Director Mary Buhr went back to see Jane the day after her birthday.  Mary posted this account on Facebook:

" We made a great 'mess' with the dirt, and the smell of the fresh dirt filled her room. Jane was very happy --so much so she didn't want to take her planting glove off! And as I left the room, she smiled and said 'just leave me here facing my garden--I am happy now.'  

Ecumen Names Terry Mahar Regional Director of Home Care, Hospice and Adult Day Services

Terry Mahar, a healthcare executive with more than 34 years of experience, has been named to the newly created post of regional director of home care, hospice and adult day services at Ecumen.

Mahar comes to Ecumen from Eide Bailly, where for the past 15 years he was a healthcare consulting senior manager in the Sioux Falls, S.D., office, specializing in home health, hospice, private-duty care, acute hospital care and skilled nursing. 

Prior to his job at Eide Bailly, Mahar worked for the Altru Health System in North Dakota as manager of their home care, hospice and personal care group, where he grew the business and improved its financial performance. He began his career as a registered nurse at United Hospital in Grand Forks, N.D., then moved into United’s home health and hospice division, first in direct care and then as a hospice patient care coordinator. He has clinical experience in skilled nursing, home health, hospice, personal care services, and coronary and intensive care. 

“Terry’s mandate is to grow and develop Ecumen’s in-home services at a time when many more seniors are opting to age in place,” said Shelley Kendrick, Ecumen vice president of operations. 

Currently, Ecumen has four home care agencies — in Duluth, Litchfield, Mankato and the Twin Cities.  Kendrick said in addition to growing and improving the current agencies, Mahar will also be evaluating opportunities to open new home health care agencies at other Ecumen sites.

Mahar has both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of North Dakota.  He served as president of the North Dakota Hospice Organization for seven years and on the board of directors of the Grand Forks Senior Citizens Association for eight years.  Mahar and his family live in Brandon, S.D. 

Ecumen Le Center’s “Sweet Pea”—The Caring Cat Who Marks Time

 Sweet Pea knows when you need her, even if you don’t know.  Even if you don’t like cats, she will be there for you, letting you know she cares, as if it is her duty.

Sweet Pea knows things that people don’t know.   This is just a fact.

Sweet Pea lives at Ecumen Le Center in Le Center, Minn.  She is smart, warm, caring, energetic and persistent.  She will come to you when the time is right.  If you want her close to you, she will cuddle.  If you don’t, she will find some place to hold her vigil where she can be with you, but not in your way.  She will know what to do and when.

Sweet Pea has no pedigree.  She was a feral cat until she was taken in by Dr. Jean Craig, a family medicine physician in New Prague.  Dr. Craig helps both people and cats.

Dr. Craig has patients at Ecumen Le Center.  One day this past summer, she prescribed a cat.

Dr. Craig has no solid medical evidence but believes cats can make some people feel better.  They can have a soothing, palliative effect.  She had written a paper about it in medical school.  Anyway, she told Chris Carter, the Ecumen Le Center housing director, you can always bring Sweet Pea back if she doesn’t work out.

Chris is not a cat person but said, okay, she would try it.  So she got all the cat accessories to make a home for Sweet Pea—a bed, a litter box, some cat toys.  For the first two or three weeks, Sweet Pea was shy and reserved.  She hung out in Chris’s office, sitting on the desk, walking on the keyboard, doing cat things.  Then she slowly ventured out, sizing up the residents, figuring out who liked her and who didn’t.

LaVonne was a resident in her eighties.  She stayed in her room much of the time. Sweet Pea started coming to visit, and LaVonne loved having her.  Then LaVonne started coming out of her room for meals, until she began feeling weak.  That’s when Sweet Pea started sleeping on the bed with LaVonne and refusing to leave the room.  Just leave her with me, LaVonne said.  I love having her. 

Addie was 98.  She didn’t like cats.  So Sweet Pea respectfully didn’t climb on her bed.  She just stayed on the chair in Addie’s room.

Ruth didn’t much like Sweet Pea either.  But tolerated her.  Sweet Pea would lie in the hallway outside Ruth’s room, or sit under the table when Ruth was reading.

Pearl adored Sweet Pea. So, when the time came, the cat slept on her bed.

And just last week, Sweet Pea came to see Barbara, the lady who gently teased her with a stuffed dog named “Pup.”  Barbara would make barking sounds and wave Pup around to get Sweet Pea’s attention. About a week ago, Barbara, 95, became ill.  Sweet Pea crawled on Barbara’s bed when the time seemed right, and Barbara put her hand on Sweet Pea.  And that was the last thing she did.

With all five women, Sweet Pea knew what was about to happen and exactly when she needed to be there.  First LaVonne died, and Sweet Pea was there on the bed with her when she took her last breath, after holding vigil for several days.  Then Addie died, and Sweet Pea was there in the room on the chair.  Then Ruth died, and Sweet Pea was right outside the door in the hallway.  And when Pearl’s family gathered at her bedside for the last time, Sweet Pea was there with them.  And with Barbara, Sweet Pea started visiting regularly about a week before the night Barbara petted her for the last time.

It’s hard to explain, but after five times, it’s not a coincidence.  Sweet Pea knew.

A Lifetime of Love Recaptured

Bill and Mary renewed their vows at Ecumen of Litchfield last week. Mary was granted her "wish," which also included lighting a unity candle and singing "Amazing Grace," through the new EcuDreams program for Ecumen of Litchfield hospice residents.

"A Lifetime of Love Recaptured" by Jenny Berg, Litchfield Independent Review

After more than 66 years, she still captures his heart.

It was evident in the way Bill Olson slowly rose from his walker, leaned in and tenderly kissed his bride last week during a ceremony to renew their vows. With tears in his eyes and a single rose pinned to a simple plaid shirt, Bill repeated that he still takes Mary to be his wife.

“It really got to me,” Bill said thoughtfully while eating a cupcake after the ceremony.

Bill and Mary, both 85, have lived in Litchfield for decades and ran Gambels in downtown Litchfield for many years. A few months ago, Mary transferred from living at the couple’s home to living in hospice care at Ecumen. Read more and see photos of the event on the Litchfield Independent Review's website.