Ten years ago, Howard Lacey’s wife Marilyn suffered a stroke and went into cardiac arrest while on the job as a CNA at Good Samaritan Society – Algona in Iowa.
“She collapsed. Her heart stopped and she almost died,” Howard, 83, says about the traumatic event. “Michelle Durant (a Society nurse) was there. She kept her going until the EMTs (got there).”
Michelle’s efforts, thankfully, turned out to be lifesaving.
“I had to perform CPR on her,” Michelle says.
But the couple’s future would be forever altered.
“She was an extraordinary CNA,” Michelle says regarding Marilyn, who won a CNA of the year award in 2011.
'She would have been here for me'
Now, Marilyn is a resident herself at the long-term care center. Using a wheelchair and communicating with speech challenges following her stroke, the 80-year-old former caregiver needs the same assistance she used to provide.
Fortunately, she’s surrounded by a skilled team and one incredibly dedicated husband.
“There’s a lot of people, their spouse goes in the nursing home and it doesn’t mean they’re here every day. It was just never a question for him,” Mia Bronk, one of the Laceys’ five daughters, says.
Every day Howard visits his sweetheart and wife of more than 60 years. Early on he’d even help Society staff get Marilyn to bed at night.
“That’s what you want your spouse to be. Knowing that they would do anything for you,” Michelle adds.
Howard’s commitment is just part of who he is.
“She would have been here for me if it was the other way around. You’re married until death do us part,” Howard says.
Afternoon coffee hour
During his many hours supporting Marilyn at the center, Howard noticed something about his wife’s fellow residents.
“Some of these people don’t get company. It’s sad,” Howard says.
A jolly personality himself, Howard can often be company for a whole host of folks.
“He brings a lot of energy. When you talk to Howard, he’s full of life. He’s pretty entertaining,” Joe Bartolo, the location’s administrator, says.
Michelle says Howard is “a ray of sunshine when he walks in the door.”
Bright encounters, however, started turning into a more organized mission.
“He always goes through the whole facility, and he just talks to people. That’s just him,” Mia says.
A social butterfly, Howard began creating an afternoon coffee event for residents.
“We probably started with three, four, maybe more. Then I’d keep asking (residents), ‘Why don’t you come for coffee?’” Howard says about the volunteer endeavor. “For me, because I worry about her having another stroke, it helps me with the stress.”
The idea brewed quickly into something significant.
“Sometimes half the dining room is full. As he says, ‘We like to get crazy and rowdy,’” Joe adds. “When he entertains our residents for an hour or so, it obviously takes a load off of the staff too which certainly helps.”
Resident Geraldine Weishaar laughs while saying, “Howard is our gopher. Go for this, go for that.”
A relatively new resident, Geraldine says chatting with others while sipping coffee or other beverages is uplifting.
“Everybody is so friendly, and you meet some that you haven’t ever met before,” Geraldine says.
“Nobody else could do what he does.”
National Ever Forward Volunteer Champion
It’s why Howard is being honored by the Society as the National Ever Forward Volunteer Champion.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was very happy,” Howard says about getting the award.
Joe says, “We nominated Howard because he’s got such a big heart. Obviously, his wife is here but he treats everybody, the residents and the staff here, like they’re all his family members. He’s made a connection with every single person. He brings such a positive energy to the entire building.”
Energy filtering through and impacting others in need of encouragement.
“To be recognized for something that is just part of him, it does make me proud,” Mia says.
Michelle adds Howard “did not ever do any of this because he wanted recognition. He did it to make everybody feel special.”
Following the recognition, Howard is feeling special too.
“It makes me feel like maybe I’m worth something,” Howard says. “That maybe you’re doing something halfway right.”
With volunteers needed at many Society locations, Howard hopes his story inspires others to get involved.
“Get out and maybe do something. I don’t mean to be bragging or nothing. It’s just really something I thoroughly enjoy,” Howard says.