Connect the Dots…

by Julie Steinert, Philanthropy Manager

April 2023

On a foggy, rainy day in late November of 2022, I had the honor of traveling to the Schmeeckle Reserve in Stevens Point, WI to meet Jerry Lineberger, a long-time donor to the hospice. For the past nine years Jerry has served as the Friends of Schmeeckle Reserve president. We hiked this enchanted space while Jerry shared his story of his beloved wife, Susan, who came to the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice inpatient center for her final weeks of life in 2011.

Jerry and Susan met while attending Berea College in Kentucky. Berea College is a school that offers a high-quality education to academically promising students with limited economic resources. After graduation, Susan and he married and lived in Lexington, Kentucky for three years before deciding to move back to Susan’s home state of Wisconsin.

They resided in Plover where Jerry found himself fulfilling janitorial roles for UW-Stevens Point. Whenever he was asked to take on a new task or more work, he adamantly said, “yes!” One job led to another and, after 38 years in higher education services operations, Jerry retired in 2011 as Associate Director of University Centers.

The same year of his retirement, Susan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her Wausau oncologist told her, “get your affairs in order. You have weeks to months to live.”  Their ride back to Plover was long. One year later, after numerous treatments and medical procedures, Susan beat the odds far beyond what was predicted. One day, she told Jerry, “I’m going shopping.”  Jerry replied, “okay”, all the while not knowing that Susan would be accompanying her friend, Deb, to tour the Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice inpatient center many miles from their home.

Connect the dots…

Sometime earlier, before the “shopping trip”, UW-Stevens Point was offering a European bike tour that Susan genuinely wanted to be part of. Jerry, respecting Susan’s passion for cycling, agreed she should go. So, Susan packed her will and determination coupled with her cycling passion, along with an unsophisticated Schwinn bike. The trip was rigorous, but despite her heavy bike, Susan was able to keep up with the group, making friends along the ride, including Deb and her husband Gary from Plymouth, WI.  Had Susan not gone on that trip, she may never have met Deb and Gary.

On April 19, 2011, after a morning house call with Susan’s visiting pastor, he said, “it’s time to go.” Jerry, Susan’s sister Ann, and Susan packed her things and drove to Sheboygan Falls. Jerry realized then where Susan had “gone shopping.”  The weather conditions were treacherous. It was a terrible snowstorm. After a grueling four-hour trip (which is normally about 2.5 hours), they arrived at the hospice. Susan refused a wheelchair and walked through the front doors. That was the last time that she walked.

During her stay in the inpatient center, Susan grew especially fond of dining service’s homemade cookies. The medical team did all they could to keep her comfortable, providing freshly warmed blankets whenever needed. One of the last weekends, a group of six friends whom Susan had also biked through France with came to spend the day with her. About mid-afternoon, Susan, who never spoke a foul word, made a request of a CNA, “I want warm blankets and big-ass cookies for everyone!”  Everyone chuckled. The staff member returned saying she didn’t have enough warm blankets for everyone, but had a giant tray piled high with cookies from dining services. Susan did not say much but smiled a lot. Jerry said, “Those were some of the best cookies any of us had ever eaten.”

On the morning of May 20, 2011, Susan died.

While Jerry and I continued touring the Schmeeckle Reserve, the rainfall thickened, and the temperatures plummeted. Somehow, it did not matter. It has been 11 years since Susan’s death. Yet, her spirit lives on in the Reserve. Jerry and his children recently memorialized Susan with a dedicated space along the Moses Creek Wetland Overlook. Moses Creek winds through Schmeeckle Reserve, eventually dumping into the Wisconsin River. Her name is etched on signage throughout the Reserve, including a sign with an eagle symbol next to it. Jerry said she loved to return to her hometown of Kaukauna where the eagles nest along the Fox River. I shared with Jerry that since losing my father in March of 2022, I have seen more soaring eagles than ever before. On that day, we were just two people sharing our rekindled grief with one another. Grief that is truly about the love we have for those that have gone before us.

After a warm bowl of chicken dumpling soup, we said our good-byes, then gave each other a hug.

On my dreary drive home, I suddenly spotted an eagle diving for prey in the center ditch between the west bound and east bound lanes of highway 10. Had I not met with Jerry that November day, I may never have learned his beautiful love story, walked his beloved Schmeeckle Reserve, and heard about their remarkable twin daughters and grandchildren. As well, I may never have seen that eagle. Or made a new friend.

We want to thank Jerry for his continued gifts made annually on April 19 and May 20 in honor of Susan. We also thank Jerry for allowing us to share his story.