When Peggy and Art Ellison sit down to visit with a hospice patient, laughter is likely to fill the room. Peggy is known for wearing bright, sparkly hats that match her bright, sparkly personality and Art has perfected the art of drawing military veterans and others out of their shell.
“Art and Peggy Ellison have been a part of our Volunteer Program for eight years and continue to be instrumental in enhancing the lives of countless patients being served by Compassus,” says Nance Coyne, volunteer coordinator for Compassus in Butte, Montana.
Indeed, the Ellisons have lived a life of service, beginning with the U.S. Navy, in which she served three years and he served 26. They also volunteer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, for numerous veteran committees on the state and national level and with the American Legion, which led them to Compassus.
“We were at an American Legion meeting one night and this gal comes in and starts talking about hospice and needing volunteers and right away my hand went up,” Peggy recalls. “She had a lot of veterans who needed somebody to come in and visit with them and talk with them. With us both being veterans, it just seemed the thing to do.”
Though you usually find Art and Peggy together, they each have deeply personal reasons for volunteering with Compassus.
Peggy recalls the gratitude she felt when hospice workers relieved her for brief times from caregiving duties for each of her parents.
“I thought, ‘This is my time to pay back what hospice did for me when I needed it most,’ and it’s an awesome feeling,” Peggy says. “And I hope I’m giving families the same relief that I got.”
Art’s reason stems from the negative treatment he and other soldiers received when they returned stateside from the Vietnam War.
“I vowed that when I retired I would work and do the best I can to make it better for those people getting out of the service after I did,” he says.
That’s why he has a special affinity for military veterans in hospice and why he and Peggy participate in the veteran pinning ceremonies that Compassus offers to recognize and honor veteran hospice patients for their service to our country.
In these ceremonies, a letter is read to the veteran as a flag lapel is pinned to his or her shirt, a certificate of service is awarded and the veteran is encouraged to share their military experience and stories.
“These veterans serving and saluting fellow veterans is truly inspirational,” Nance says. Most of Art’s time with fellow veterans is encouraging them to talk about their service and themselves.
“Right now, I’m seeing a woman,” he begins.
“And I’m not a bit jealous,” Peggy quips.
“She’s from Holland and spent the World War II years in Holland during the German occupation,” Art continues. “I get her talking about herself and her stories and her family, and just whatever.”
With other men he plays cards or cribbage. “Whatever we can do to brighten their day,” he says.
Peggy and Art enjoy ballroom dancing and have found sharing that part of their lives is quite entertaining for the patients they visit.
“That probably is because many of the patients we serve loved the music of the 1940s and it allows them to reimagine a special time in their lives,” Nance says.
The Ellisons relish their visits with Compassus patients because they know they’re truly making a difference. “I see it every time I go into someone’s room,” Peggy says. “They just brighten up. It just makes their day.”
The jovial couple enjoys life and wants to help their hospice friends enjoy it to the very end.
“We pay attention to them. We encourage them that every day is the best,” Art says. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life and you should enjoy it. That’s the way I look at it and I want to help them enjoy it, too.”