VALPARAISO | When Paul Keaton's wife, Margaret, died last month, she was at home surrounded by her loved ones and pets.
On Sunday, more than 30 of her family and friends, and her dogs Jack and Lucy, walked on her behalf in the Visiting Nursing Association's 12th annual Stroll for Hospice.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the VNA hospice program in Porter County. The program provided care for Margaret during the last three weeks of her life, Keaton said.
“They were professional and compassionate, and everything we could have wanted to help her pass with dignity,” he said.
Team Margaret was among an estimated 250 walkers who gathered at the VNA Phoenix Center, 501 Marquette St., prior to embarking on a three-mile walk. The celebration also featured a musical performance by the Sweet Adelines and a cookout.
Organizers hope to raise about $20,000 this year to support bereavement services, volunteer programs and other basic needs, said Maria Galka, vice president of fund development for the VNA.
Valparaiso resident Diane Valpatic came to walk in honor of her mother, Virginia Louden, who died in 2007 at the hospice center in Valparaiso.
“I think the VNA does a wonderful job,” Valpatic said. “They were very kindhearted and patient-oriented, and they were concerned about our family, too.”
Sandy Carney, of Chesterton, was among the 50 volunteers helping out at the event. She began volunteering for hospice 20 years ago and has worked every year at the stroll.
Carney also is a retired first-grade teacher at Jackson Elementary School, and she recruited a team of walkers from the school.
She said she first became acquainted with hospice when her father was a patient.
“This has been my passion for a long time,” Carney said. “It's so worthwhile and life-changing to be a volunteer.”
Caring for people at the end of their lives is humbling and helps to put one's own life in perspective, she said.
“It gives you a better understanding of what's important and what's not important in life,” Carney said.