The Van Wert County Courthouse

Tuesday, May. 24, 2022

Beacon of Hope dinner honors Gearhart

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Family and hospice workers remembered the late Mike Gearhart with emotion and humor during the 18th annual Hospice Beacon of Hope dinner and auction held Thursday night at Willow Bend Country Club.

Janet Gearhart, wife of the late Mike Gearhart, speaks during Thursday night's Beacon of Hope dinner while surrounded by her family and hospice workers. (Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent)
Janet Gearhart, wife of the late Mike Gearhart, speaks during Thursday night’s Beacon of Hope dinner while surrounded by her family and hospice workers. (Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent)

Gearhart, who died February 3 at the Van Wert Area Inpatient Hospice Center, was unusual in that he was able to walk on his own into the center, said Tonya Rutledge, nursing supervisor.

“Mike’s journey was a little different than most,” Rutledge noted. “I can’t remember another patient that walked through those doors all the way down the hallway to his room.”

While Rutledge had high hopes at first that Gearhart’s mobility could mean he would recover, Gearhart himself had fewer illusions. His reason for coming to the hospice center earlier than most was to help his family avoid the stress of becoming caregivers for him during the end stages of his battle with cancer.

“Mike was a very selfless and caring person, which by just looking at him when he talked about his family — or to his family — you could see the love in his eyes,” Rutledge said.

The nursing supervisor also talked about Gearhart’s sense of humor, but got a laugh from the packed house when she added that, while she could tell many funny stories about him: “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Thursday night was also an emotional night for both hospice staffers and Gearhart’s family as they exchange lighthouses in the traditional Beacon of Hope ceremony

“The lighthouse represents inspiration, guidance, and hope that hearts will heal and that memory and legacies will live on,” Rutledge explained.

Gearhart’s wife, Janet, thanked hospice center staff members for their care of Mike.

“They made this very, very difficult journey a little bit easier for all of us,” she noted. “Even though we were not at home, they made it feel like home.”

Rutledge added that the center’s focus is on providing quality of life to those suffering a terminal illness, whether it is cancer or one of many other terminal illnesses.

Brent Tow, Community Health Professionals president/CEO, said Thursday’s event, which includes a charity auction, provides funds to CHP’s Patient Care Fund, which helps defray uninsured medical expenses for hospice patients, whether they’re in the hospice center or receiving hospice care at home. For Tow, it’s also an opportunity to educate local residents about hospice in general.

“It’s important for people to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Tow said, while adding that having a fun atmosphere at the auction is also important so that people enjoy coming each year.

“As a nonprofit agency, your biggest struggle is how are we going to make money, especially when you’re in a small rural community like this,” he noted.

Tow said the Beacon of Hope idea was one that former president/CEO Donna Grimm created.

“Donna Grimm came up with the idea to have lighthouses be the symbolic memory of somebody’s spirit continuing on, a eternal beacon of hope,” Tow noted, who added that the Beacon of Hope ceremony is one in which staff members get involved, working to provide creativity for each event, while also keeping the dignity of the event.

“We meet with the family ahead of time and we say ‘what are your expectations and what are our expectations’,” Tow said, adding that ensures there are no surprises and the family’s wishes are followed.

The auction, emceed by Rick Small and conducted by Bob Gamble of Bee Gee Realty & Auctioneers, also started with a tribute to Mike Gearhart, a rabid New York Yankees fan who took annual trips to spring training to see his team practice, as a special Yankees baseball bat was the first item sold.

POSTED: 04/29/16 at 8:43 am. FILED UNDER: News