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Hughes donates car to Almost Home in memory of brother
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Rhonda Hughes, left, and Leilani Schenkel are shown with the 2012 Kia Soul that Hughes donated to Almost Home Inc., 1919 Van Buren. Schenkel is executive director at the residential-care home. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

         Rhonda Hughes, Great Bend, believes that her brother, Stanton Bergen, is probably tickled with the idea that his 2012 Kia Soul is being put to good use.

          Hughes donated the car in her brother’s memory to Almost Home Inc., a residential-care facility at 1919 Van Buren. Bergen was only 47 when he recently died of pancreatic cancer.

          “No sooner had we found out that he had cancer, he was gone,” Hughes recalled. “The day he died, he was scheduled to go to Almost Home for hospice services.

          “But he never made it there,” Hughes added. “The hospital in Hutchinson called and said he couldn’t be transferred that day. Stanton had had a rough night.”

          When Hughes received this news, she immediately contacted Leilani Schenkel, R.N., Almost Home executive director/operator.

          “The next thing I know, Leilani is on her way to Hutchinson,” Hughes said. “She said she felt a sense of urgency that day. She talked to Stanton and helped him be sure he was right with God. That is priceless.”

          Schenkel acknowledged she felt drawn to make the trip to Hutchinson.

“I just got in my car and left, which is out of character for me. But from the minute I heard Stanton couldn’t be transferred, I felt like I needed to act now. I did ask Rhonda if she wanted to ride along but she had already made other arrangements. I was praying on the trip and didn’t stop for anything.”

          She is glad she didn’t.

          “I walked into Stanton’s room and it was evident he was having a difficult time,” Schenkel said. “His breathing was fast and labored. I just talked to him about heaven and it wasn’t long before his breathing slowed. I was with him for less than an hour before he died.”

          Schenkel and Bergen had been friends for 30 years; they had worked together at Dillons back in the day.

          He had told his family that if he needed hospice services, they should call on his old friend.

          “We are so grateful to Leilani and Almost Home,” Hughes said. “I know Stanton would feel I did the right thing by donating the car. He is probably getting a kick out of it.”

          Schenkel said the Kia is a perfect fit for running errands and calling on prospective Almost Home residents for assessments.

          “Stanton will forever be dear to my heart,” Schenkel said. “We are so grateful that Rhonda chose to pay it forward. Donations allow us to continue to grow and serve more people.”

          Almost Home, which opened in 2014, is a non-profit venture based on the “home-plus” model, a concept introduced in Kansas in 1997. It provides health care and personal care in a home-like environment.

          In addition to full-time residential and hospice care, services include adult day care and respite care for families. Almost Home is staffed 24 hours a day with certified personnel and Schenkel is there often. Another registered nurse is always on call too.

          Schenkel’s background includes 17 years as an emergency room nurse at Central Kansas Medical Center, which is now St. Rose Health Center. She also was a flight nurse and marketing director for EagleMed and director of nursing at Clara Barton Hospital. At CKMC, she was chief nursing officer and chief operating officer.