For the past 15 years, Ethel Wischer has spent Thursday afternoons volunteering in the stockroom at Heirlooms Thrift & Gift, a resale store benefitting Hospice of the Red River Valley. Every week she joyfully secures an apron around her waist, rolls up her sleeves and carefully unpacks, washes, shines and polishes the generously donated items. The crystal pieces are Ethel’s favorite because they remind her of her own mother.
“I like unpacking boxes and preparing the merchandise to be put out on the floor. We want everything to look beautiful when it comes out on the sales floor,” Ethel explained. “We want the store to be the utmost attractive so we always keep everything appealing to the public. I tell people it’s like walking into Macy’s.”
This work is more than volunteering to Ethel. It’s a sanctuary where she takes comfort in the friendship of fellow volunteers and extending the mission of Hospice of the Red River Valley.
“Thursday is my favorite day of the week. It’s a special day. I feel I’m doing something for the community and other people. I always thought it was a waste of good time to sit around thinking about where you are going to have lunch or go shopping,” Ethel shared.
“It’s therapeutic coming here; the managers are excellent and make me feel at home. In fact, they kind of mother me and worry that I’m working too hard. I tell them, ‘please let me get tired of having fun, because that is what it is.’ It’s just fun to be here, and it’s a sense of comfort to be here with the people.”
Ethel was first introduced to the Heirlooms store when she was a patient care volunteer for Hospice of the Red River Valley 35 years ago. She kept in touch with Hospice staff; before the store opened in 2003, Ethel was contacted to see if she would want to lend her time and talents at the store. Ethel knew right away volunteering with Heirlooms would be a good fit, and she’s been sharing her time with the store ever since. “I remember before it [the store] opened, we were putting earrings on little clips of paper and that was the first job I had here,” she recalled.
In the past several years, the time she spends giving back at Heirlooms has proven to be respite for Ethel as she lives with breast cancer. She knows with her diagnosis, there’s a possibility she may need hospice in the future so she has given thousands of hours to wholeheartedly support the cause.
“I need to think about hospice [now] to make it easier for my family and also myself to make that choice. The more you plan for it ahead of time, the easier it can be to accept the program and what they have to offer,” she shared. Not only does Ethel believe in the concept of hospice care for herself, but she’s also passionate in educating others about the service.
“I think hospice is misunderstood by a lot of people, and I think it’s our duty to pass that information on to the public and make them aware of what it’s really about. Hospice is there for you medically, physically and mentally,” Ethel said.
“So often they [people] think it’s just for the patient, but it’s for the whole family. I think we often forget about the person who sits beside the bed. I’ve been on both sides of the bed in my lifetime, and I try to remember that. Hospice is there to help that person beside the bed, too. When the caregivers can get away for a bit, they come back with a brighter look on life and can share with patients what they experienced while gone and that makes the patients feel better, too.”
At an early age, Ethel witnessed her parents serving others—whether it was family, a neighbor or even a stranger—her parents were always generous in helping those in need in their rural farm community. Ethel and her husband, Don, have carried on the same family legacy with their children, and now their grandchildren.
“Sometimes we think we always have to give a monetary gift to help an organization, and that’s not true, it’s also the physical gift that you can give,” Ethel described. “And as we grow older, it’s not as easy, but it’s important to me. It means a lot to know that I’m still needed, and it doesn’t matter what age you are to volunteer at Heirlooms.”
Heirlooms has become a home away from home for Ethel—and the staff and volunteers are a family. “We share our good times and our bad times. They are supportive and always there if you need them. We have fun spending our day together. Time is the most valuable gift I can give and also receive from others at this time,” Ethel said.
“Ethel is a joy and delight from the time she walks in the front door until the time she leaves. She is an inspiration to all of us,” Roxanne Engebretson, Heirlooms store manager, said.
At age 86 and as Ethel’s illness progresses, she plans to continue to give back as much as she’s able because the experience and people have been such a blessing to her.
“I just feel being able to come to Heirlooms is so mentally valuable to me. I love helping in the store and helping Hospice financially. It’s a comfort knowing Hospice will be there when I need them. It’s become a part of my life, and I would be sad if I couldn’t come.”
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.