MARQUETTE - Roger Bentlage wondered what he and the hospice patient he was assigned to work with would talk about.
What he discovered was the conversation between him and his fellow military veteran flowed so naturally it only ended when the patient passed away.
Bentlage and seven other military veterans were honored recently for their work as part of the "We Honor Veterans" program through Lake Superior Hospice. Each of the eight military men were assigned to hospice patients who also are veterans.
Veterans who volunteer to work with other veterans through Lake Superior Hospice were recently honored, with Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda presenting the certificates. From the left, Pierre Jeffrion, Frank Allen, Ron Tervo, Jeff Wenstrand, Vajda, Dan Mazzuchi, Curt Rife and Roger Bentlage. Honored but missing the ceremony was Chuck Tooman. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"My interest started at a Rotary meeting, actually," Bentlage said. "Hospice did a presentation about their program. Like so many other people, I thought hospice was where people go to die. But after the presentation, I found out it was so much more.
"I and my wife are now involved. We have had training and find it is something to do if you really want to give back," he said. "It's an opportunity that's second to none. The staff here is second to none."
Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda presented certificates to the eight men honored for their participation in the program: Bentlage, Frank Allen, Pierre Jeffrion, Dan Mazzuchi, Curt Rife, Ron Tervo, Jeff Wenstrand and Chuck Tooman.
Bentlage's first assigned patient recently passed away.
"He was an amazing guy," Bentlage said. "We would spend four or five hours a week together. At first I thought, 'What are we going to talk about?' But the conversation never ended. We got very close. The hard side of things is to lose him but it was so worthwhile spending time with him."
Mary Bentlage, Roger's wife, is involved with hospice as well, although not with the veterans program. But it has touched her heart as well.
"Roger and the vet he was paired with were constantly talking about the military," Mrs. Bentlage said. "After a couple of months, they were so close. He wishes he had known (the patient) for longer.
"I had never met (the patient) or his wife but I went to the Jacobetti (Home for Veterans) to visit my own patient and someone said they thought the lady down the hall knew me," Mrs. Bentlage said. "I went down the hall and the woman asked if I was Roger's wife. When I said 'yes,' she started to cry. She was his patient's widow. She thinks the world of Roger and what he's done for her family. The bond between them was so close in such a short time.
"Doing this is so rewarding," she said.
Tervo, another of the honorees, agreed.
"I am a retired nurse and was looking for a volunteer opportunity which would be satisfying," he said. "This is it. I have been involved for three years and enjoy visiting with my patient and their family.
"This is definitely good for the patient's family," Tervo said. "It gives them a chance to get out and that's great."
Samantha Rogers, volunteer coordinator for Lake Superior Hospice, addressed those assembled at the ceremony:
"We thank you for your service to our nation," Rogers said. "We thank you for the sacrifices you have made serving our country. You endured hardships and you were willing to risk your life to maintain our freedom. In times past, your serving brought hope and helped to maintain freedom; today your serving is bringing comfort and healing through being a Lake Superior Hospice volunteer and part of the Veteran to Veteran program."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.