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Hospice of the Panhandle burns $536,000 mortgage

March 27, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jim Seibert held the burning paper as long as he could, then dropped it into the dirt hole. The flame was devouring a copy of Hospice of the Panhandle Inc.'s $536,000 mortgage on its Martinsburg office.

"Burn!," Seibert commanded.

Within seconds, the paper was charred and unrecognizable. Seibert, the president of Hospice's board of directors, waited a minute, then hoisted a young dogwood tree and put it in the hole, on top of the singed paper.

"We're going to plant the tree and let it be fertilized by the ashes of the note," said Hospice Executive Director Margaret Cogswell.

Little white cardboard tags were tied to the tree's branches, each with a different goal, now that debt isn't an obstacle.

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About three dozen guests cheered, then went back inside to drink champagne and ginger ale from plastic cups.

"When I saw that fire and the smoke, I said, 'Yes!'" said Hospice board member Lillian Maggio.

Hospice is a nonprofit organization that helps terminally ill people and their families prepare for death in comfort.

"We are committed to our mission, which is making the end of life a time of growth and meaning for individuals," she said.

The local chapter, which serves four counties, has 45 staff members and 150 volunteers, according to Cogswell.

"When we started our capital campaign, I knew we'd have this party," Cogswell told the small crowd. "But I didn't think it would be in four years."

Most of the debt was eliminated when Hospice raised $491,000 through a fund drive and by selling a piece of land Ralph Burkhart donated to the organization before he died.

Hospice recently sold that half-acre to the state for $176,000. The parcel will be used as part of a project to improve West King Street and Old Mill Road.

Valentine's Day marked four years since Hospice moved into its 7,000-square-foot office on Boyd Orchard Court, just west of Interstate 81, according to Cogswell.

Before then, the organization had rented about 1,700 square-feet on West Burke Street.

The old office figured prominently in the heartfelt eulogies and tributes members and volunteers shared, as Cogswell solicited Hospice stories.

Larry Crawley-Woods, Hospice's bereavement coordinator, recalled going up to the attic on West Burke Street to document the pigeon problem there.

Dressed in a rain slicker, scarf, goggles, gloves and boots, Crawley-Woods took a roll of pictures of the pigeons and their droppings as proof of the problem for the landlord.

When he was finished, and alone at the office, he accidentally triggered a burglar alarm. Crawley-Woods found himself facing police officers at the door and tried to explain what he was doing.

"Larry's famous words were, 'But officer, I work here,'" said Cogswell.

Joe Ehman said he became involved with Hospice when his wife, Ann, was dying. He was so grateful for the care she received, he said, that he figured some "payback" was in order. Ehman became a volunteer after her death.

He recalled Sunday how Kathie Campbell, Hospice's marketing development director, later introduced him to a woman whose spouse had also died.

"And the upshot is: Jean, my wife," Ehman said to a round of applause.

Jean Ehman had been through Hospice with her husband, Newell Crolius, who died after six months in the program.

In April, the Ehmans, who live in Shepherdstown, W.Va., will celebrate their fifth anniversary.

"That's why Joe said Hospice is full-service," Jean Ehman said.

They were married by the Rev. G.T. Schramm of Trinity Episcopal Church in Shepherdstown.

Schramm, currently Hospice's chaplaincy coordinator, was president of the board of directors when the mortgage was secured. He said he didn't know until Sunday that his was the only Hospice name on the note.

"I can't believe the bank let us do this with just a poor preacher's signature," he joked.

Other volunteers chipped in their own praises.

Maggio said she was thrilled to be asked to bathe an elderly woman and give her a massage, particularly during the Lenten season.

Maggio reported that she knelt and cried before the woman, who said she, too, felt honored.

Richard Yauger, a city councilman, said he decided to volunteer after reading about Hospice six years ago. He called it one of the best groups he could imagine.

"The volunteers I've met through this organization are the tops. ... They're always good for a hug, and I love hugs," he said.

The volunteers are down to earth, friendly and caring, Yauger said. "They carry your load as much as you carry your own, and that is just precious."

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