The Paula J. Barber Hospice Home provides a comfortable environment to help people cope with the process of dying. Volunteers like LeRoy Husske help create that environment for patients and their families.
"I had a patient's family tell me that this is a step before heaven," Husske said.
Husske doesn't have one set agenda when he comes in to volunteer.
Volunteer Leroy Husske works on removing the rubber mold around a hand casting recently at the Paula J. Baber Hospice Home in Fort Dodge.
"I do whatever they ask me to do," he said. "Answer the telephone, meet with families, sit with a patient, run errands."
He also regularly meets with a patient at an area nursing home.
Husske has been volunteering here for about five years, but didn't always think he'd like it.
"I didn't want to," he said. "It was something when I retired and I said, 'Why would I want to do something that deals with death and cancer?' So my wife suggested that I pray about it.
"A couple weeks later, when I went to church the pastor's topic for that day was 'Life is best lived when it's given away.' I knew that was my answer, so I called Mary (Larson) and said I'll take the class."
Larson is volunteer coordinator for the hospice house.
"He is very gifted in many ways," she said. "He is a master of a lot of things he does."
Husske directs two choirs for Holy Trinity Parish and sings with choirs at Trinity United Methodist and First Covenant Church. He is also a painter, and donates paintings to be raffled off for charity causes.
At the hospice home, he often helps make Angel Hands. Clasped hands are buried in a mixture like that used by dentists to make molds of teeth. After the mixture sets, a plaster-of-paris cast is made. When the molding is removed, the casting is cleaned. The plaster hands show the fine detail of a loved one's hands, making a solid memory.
"He also trains new volunteers in how to do them. It's a very important job," Larson said.
Husske teaches "how to make the mold, how to approach the patient to do the mold, because the patient has to be involved. Then we make the mold, then pour the stone mixture into the mold that becomes the hands.
"The next day we unveil them and clean them. That sometimes takes a couple hours. We use dental tools to clean them. Sometimes they can be very intricate."
His music is also a way to connect with patients, even Alzheimer's patients.
"They'll sit there with this blank look on their face, and you'll start to sing, and they'll come out of wherever they are and sing and never miss a word, never miss a note," he said. "When you get done with the song, they go back to where they were, but just for an instant it was like you reached them. You communicated."
Husske said he gets more out of it than he can give, and the experience has profoundly affected him spiritually.
"One of the guys passed away and came back, and told me what he saw," he said. "Those kinds of things, it just gives you an altogether different outlook on life and the spiritual side of it.
"I think I got to hear his story so I could repeat it to you, and to anyone who listens, that there's a promise. But I wouldn't have heard it if I wasn't a volunteer. I'm so glad Mary asked me to do it now."
Even when he's with Alzheimer's patients, he often leaves with a smile on his face.
"I love Alzheimer's patients. I think they're so genuine," he said.
"There was one woman, every time I left I'd say 'I love you, see you next week.' And it was nothing, there was no response. She may not have heard me, I don't know. But every week I would say that to her, and two weeks before she died, I said 'I love you, I'll see you in a couple weeks,' and she looked around the room and said 'I love you too, but we're going to have to really keep this quiet.'"
Sometimes Husske's job is to "just be there, you don't have to say anything," he said. With one woman who'd lost a lot of her family, "all I did was hold her, and we cried together, and sometimes that's all you can do."