It started with a dream or two, fueled largely by the passion of volunteers. Some shared a vision of a hospice program that would meet some of the needs of dying patients and their families. Others envisioned a cancer treatment center. “Those dreams came together formally at a meeting of physicians, laypersons, and representatives from several social agencies on November 1st, 1979,” according to a typewritten brochure detailing the beginnings of what was then “Central Wyoming Cancer Treatment Center and Hospice Program.” The building at 233 South Jackson was formally dedicated on June 5th, 1981.
Many passionate people were involved in making these dreams a reality, but the volunteers held a special place, as they do now. “The Volunteer Team Leaders, both official and unofficial, have given more hours and shed more tears than could humanly be expected,” states the brochure, “especially Louise Classen and Ellie Ellbogen who served as the original Volunteer Directors and role models. And the other professional and lay volunteers, too numerous to mention here, provided the outreach and love that makes the program what it is.”
Those early days could be hectic. “Mainly it was something like ‘Ellie called and she needs me to…’ or ‘I need to call Ellie before we eat dinner [or anything else] to make sure we have this person covered,” recalls son Carl Classen, who says what stands out in his memories is his mother’s passion for helping people and adds “When I was home visiting (or hearing about afterwards) – the calls to and from Mrs. Ellbogen at whatever time of day or night – any day of the year! – and the two of them coordinating care for a new patient.”
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Dan Sullivan was one of the original members of the Board of Directors. Sullivan said he has served with other organizations “but this one just kind of got my heart going. Because we’re talking about people at the end of their life. And I was a youngster in those days and had parents who were going through the beginning stages of that as well. And I was being asked to be involved by good people, people I respected a whole lot.”
The Classens left a legacy to that passion of volunteerism. The Louise O. and Edward C. Classen Endowment Fund, is to “support the dedicated volunteers who are the hallmark of a quality Hospice Program,” according to the Wyoming Community Foundation. “It honors the couple and how much they contributed to Hospice and the community,” said Vickery Hall of WCF, “but gifts like this also support Hospice and volunteers like the Classens into the future. So it honors the past and fuels the work into the future.”
For the non-profit Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions, now located on a campus on South Wilson and South Fenway, volunteers are still deeply the heart of Hospice. Officials there are grateful for the Classen’s gift, which helps maintain the volunteering spirit that was so close to Louise Classen’s heart. More than 130 volunteers help with everything from patient support and administrative assistance, to special work with our Veterans and more. “Our family of volunteers are the best in town,” said CWHP Volunteer Coordinator Dixie Bedsaul. “The dedication and talent each volunteer bring to our family is unique.”
Anyone can contribute to the Louise O. and Edward C. Classen Endowment Fund. If you’d like more information, you can contact the Wyoming Community Foundation. For more information about Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions and their services to the community, call (307) 577-4832.