Janesville46.3°

Volunteering for Agrace HospiceCare provides meaningful opportunities

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 8, 2011
— Len Gersmehl and Evie Miller sat close together at a round table, looking through and discussing a copy of Gersmehl's life in review.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Gersmehl reminisced about the black-and-white photograph that showed him wearing bib overalls and wiping down his parents' Plymouth.


"We kept it shined for our folks," he said.


Last summer, Gersmehl shared stories of his life with Miller. She then compiled them into a 15-page journal that includes some of his most cherished stories and photographs.


The result has become a valuable family keepsake.


Gersmehl, an Agrace HospiceCare patient, and Miller, a volunteer with the nonprofit hospice care, reunited earlier this week to go over the finished product.


"It's great to see him again," Miller said of Gersmehl, 98. "He's such an interesting person."


Miller is one of 100 Agrace HospiceCare volunteers in the Janesville area, said Lori DeMoras, volunteer coordinator for the company. Still, there "absolutely" is a need for more volunteers, said Heather Burnside, home care volunteer coordinator.


"We always can use more people in the Janesville area—especially in the smaller communities of Edgerton, Milton, Evansville and Stoughton," DeMoras said.


Agrace HospiceCare's next volunteer orientation is Monday, Dec. 12, when potential volunteers can learn about some of the most common volunteer positions. These include in-home patient and family volunteers, long-term care facility patient and family volunteers and life review volunteers, Burnside said.


"Volunteers provide companionship, build relationships and help provide respite for families," DeMoras said.


Burnside said they also provide invaluable on-on-one time.


Miller and Gersmehl are proof of that. Both are sports fans and retired educators who always have made church and family a priority. They hit it off right from the start.


"She just brought out his stories of his life that had to be told," Burnside said. "I think Evie got as much out of it as he did."


Miller, 67, Milton, finds volunteering rewarding.


"It's a satisfying experience because I always get something from each visit," she said. "Just getting to know someone and finding out about their life experiences is such a rich experience."


Miller, who works with Gersmehl and eight other patients, became a volunteer with Agrace HospiceCare as a way to give back. Her mother was a hospice patient in Iowa.


"I'm enjoying what I do. It's a practical way to use some of my skills," said Miller, a retired UW-Whitewater professor who taught writing courses.


"It's an honor to be invited into a family's life to do something like this."



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