A highlight of the time when the weather is shifting from winter to spring – although not so noticeable this year – is Soup for the Soul, the annual fundraiser to benefit Hospice of Mercy.
Part of what makes it a highlight is, of course, the soup, with most of our favorite restaurants creating something special for the evening. Another part is the fact that about 700 people show up, making it a tremendous time to catch up with friends and acquaintances. And the real reason we’re there is so important, as we come together to provide support for members of our community as they enter the past phase of their lives.
Soup for the Soul was held March 18 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, which is the only indoor venue big enough for this event. It sold out days in advance, as is common, so Durangoans who are used to showing up at the last minute were out of luck.
First, the soup. With 17 restaurants and caterers providing a wide variety of textures and flavors, it was impossible to taste them all. As I was in a bit of a seafood mood, I enjoyed Chef Dave Cuntz’ New England clam chowder, which certainly did not scrimp on the clams; the Red Snapper’s crab and corn bisque; and the Glacier Club’s Thai shrimp and curry soup. At that point I was starting to get full, so I started sharing tastes, including a marvelous chicken-tortilla-pineapple-lime soup prepared by Chef Arnold “Safari” Ngumbao; the Irish potato soup by CJ’s Diner in honor of the just-passed St. Patrick’s Day; Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen’s chipotle-potato-cheddar soup; Eolus’ Kabocha squash-ginger soup; Seasons Rotisserie and Grill’s potato-leek soup; and Lost Dog Bar & Lounge’s spring lamb stew with a base of polenta – innovative and yummy. Let’s just say every bite was delicious.
Soups I didn’t have room for but heard oohs and aahs about were Cyprus Café’s harissa-black bean soup; Digs Restaurant & Bar’s red chile-pork posole; Hot Tomatoes’ spicy lamb with chickpeas and zucchini; Norton Catering’s chicken and sausage jambalaya; East by Southwest’s vegan coconut-carrot-ginger bisque; and the Garden Terrace Café’s chicken-tortilla soup. Digs, by the way, won the vote for audience favorite for 2015, edging out last year’s co-champions, who were hoping to repeat, Chimayo and East by Southwest.
Until a few years ago, this was all about the soup, but now many of the food purveyors also serve either an appetizer or dessert, which just added to the filling-up factor. Chef Safari’s double chocolate-espresso cupcakes were sublime, so I saved the DoubleTree Hotel’s chocolate chip cookies for another day. Star Liquors supplied the wine, and Steamworks Brewing Co., provided the ales.
Mercy Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Tom Gessel greeted guests, reminded us all why we were there and provided a blessing before the soup was officially on.
Mercy board member Joanne Spina, who called herself a grateful beneficiary of hospice services during her husband Rob Freeman’s final months, served as the mistress of ceremonies.
The event primarily is organized by the staff of the Mercy Health Foundation, including Chief Development Officer Karen Midkiff, Development Officer Joy Hess, administrative assistant Lauri Wilson-Lacy and special events coordinator Kay Hoppe-Jones. Anne Swisher, Betsy Romere and Shauna Agnew organized the Floral and Wish Table Committee.
Hess spent months putting together a lovely gallery about people who had benefitted or were benefitting from Hospice of Mercy and the meaningful things in their lives. The theme of the evening was “Soulful Stories.” Maureen May, John Mahoney and Sarah Syverson did beautiful voiceovers to accompany the video gallery.
Izzy Lockhart, who lived more than a century, enjoyed hats, perfume and always was color-coordinated. She was kicked out of hospice care twice for recovering, returning to enjoying her daily Scotch and water.
Earl “Prece” Archuletta“ held a strong faith in God and the medal of the Mother of Guadalupe given to him by his mom right before he left for World War II never left his neck.”
Freeman, Spina’s husband, loved dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music, kayaking and climbing, and “read everything from Civil War history to quantum physics.”
Fred Kroeger, who’s living with Alzheimer’s disease at 97, “loves his community and his garden. He holds his gardening hat close.”
Samantha McClure, who died far too young of cancer, was an athlete and moving example of dealing with a terminal disease with grace.
Charles “Chuck” Midkiff, was the husband of Mercy Health Foundation’s Karen Midkiff. “He would sneak out early in the morning and come back with wonderfully mushy cards and $7.99 bouquets from City Market. If I could do it again, I would accept those bouquets with so much joy,” she wrote.
Death can be such a taboo or morbid subject in our society, but Norm Jones made the point that the hospice is about life, living every day, no matter how numbered, with passion. He introduced a video reflecting the words of Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast, “happiness revealed,” that reminded all of us just how grand life really is.
Part of the evening was the establishment of a new endowment fund for Hospice of Mercy, which provides hospice care regardless of ability to pay. And here’s the kind of care given: In fiscal year 2014, Hospice of Mercy made 5,264 visits to 216 hospice patients. Staff covers an area of 2,900 square miles in La Plata, Archuleta and half of Montezuma counties and drove more than 83,000 miles in that time period.
The hospice also has lots of dedicated volunteers, who participate in a 20-hour orientation and donate about 1,000 hours annually. That’s about 5 percent of the manpower needed.
So, back to the hospice endowment. The goal was to raise $100,000 to get it started on a solid footing. In typical Midkiff/Hess fashion, the hospice had lined up more than half of that – $55,000 – in advance. Howard and Marjie Wilson, BP America, Gen. Ron and Miss Jane Fogelman (in support of Joel Jones and Shelley Mann), Mike Sigman and Dr. Kim Furry and Scott and Joy Mathis were the donors who gave those big dollars. At the event, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic donated another $5,000, and Joan Heil stood to make a big donation, too. By the end of the evening, about $82,000 had been raised to kick off the endowment.
Another $73,000 or so – the tallying is still underway – was raised for the operations of Hospice of Mercy.
I have been following with great interest the fundraising for the Hospice of Mercy Experience, a residential hospice facility that has been on the wish list for some time. Midkiff and crew have raised all but the final $300,000 of the funding needed to build it, and the design is underway by the Bauen Group. The HOME will provide a dignified, serene place for people who are dying but, for one reason or another, cannot die at home. (It might be because they live alone or have medical needs that cannot be met at home, for example.) At the same time, they don’t want to die in the hospital or a nursing home.
So, whether you want to contribute to the general operating expenses of Hospice of Mercy, help establish the endowment fund so the hospice has more certain ongoing funding or want to help finish raising the funds needed for HOME, I encourage you to make a donation. Death and loss are a reality of all of our lives. Making it a warmer, more dignified, more loving time is an important contribution we can make as a community.
Send your donation to the Mercy Health Foundation, 1010 Three Springs Blvd., Durango,CO 81301.
Nothing says happy birthday better than a world abloom for Karen Esser, Joseph Toledo, Mary Brown, Jim Robertson, Joan Brown, Glenn Rodey, Buff Rogers, Mary Marugg, Dana Siekman, Joyce Watt, Jack Kloepfer, Rick Kniffin, Ben Roberts, Paul Wainwright, Chip White, Peter Rudolph, Vicki Armstrong, Sheila Casey, Jeffrey Munger, Craig Wright, Amy Wilson, Shirley Drover and Sunny Pulliam.
Thank goodness for technology! When you’re a triplet, it’s particularly fun to celebrate your birthday with your siblings, but this year, Laurel Hall was here in Durango, Robin Turner was in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Roger Hall was in California. So Rod Turner, Robin’s husband, hooked them up on a conference video call, et voilà, he was singing “Happy Birthday to You” to all three at once.
They’re St. Patrick’s Day babies, so it was a fun day all around.
Happy anniversary greetings go to Bill and Pam Brown, Vi and John Kessell, Gordon Cheesewright and Diane Calfas, Tim and Dianne Williams, Sam and Kathy Burns and Bob and Scattie McGrath.
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This column has been changed to reflect Fred Kroeger’s correct age.