Good Samaritan Society – Estes Park Village sits just outside Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Everywhere you look is a postcard view. However, last October the picturesque location along with its staff and residents were in extreme danger from nearby forest fires.
“At one minute it looked like it was OK out there. It was a little foggy. Within 10 minutes, it was dark. You look out. If ever there was a picture of hell, this would be it,” resident Steve Murphree says.
Murphree and his wife, who has Alzheimer’s, are in a twin home at the Society. The couple and more than 100 other people living at Estes Park Village had to evacuate in a hurry on Oct. 22.
“We called for the evacuation about ten minutes to 12 (noon) and when I stepped outside it was like nighttime. It was dark. There was red glow, a red hue about it. Ash was falling like snow. You couldn’t even really see across the parking lot,” Society administrator Julie Lee says.
‘Really fortunate to have her’
Some residents in independent living packed up and left in their own vehicles guided by staff. Others in assisted living took off on eight buses Lee had rented during extensive emergency preparation.
“It was an hour and a half and we had everybody off this campus. She was that organized,” Society business office supervisor Brooks Lloyd says.
Wearing masks and socially distanced, people were driven from danger safely in the middle of a pandemic. Many were taken to a handful of other Society locations in the area on the front range.
“It was a challenging week and a half for us up here,” Lee says. “Without those teams down there and those administrators down there we would never have been successful. Fort Collins, Water Valley, Windsor, Loveland, Bonell, they were just fantastic.”
After about a week living at various centers, residents returned home unharmed, COVID-free and are still, to this day, grateful for Lee’s quick actions in a crisis.
“That’s our captain. Always will be,” Murphree says. “We’re really fortunate to have her. Big time.”
Lee feels fortunate her staff came through in an intense situation.
‘A special lady’
Society environmental services technician Irene Turner will never forget what her boss did for her family.
“During the evacuation, we didn’t have any place to go. She asked me that evening, ‘Irene, do you have anywhere to go?’ And I said no. I was just going to contact Red Cross or something,” Turner says.
Lee stopped what she was doing and found Turner and her loved ones a place to stay.
“She’s just a special lady. I’m a very emotional person as it is but she’s just a special lady,” Turner says.
When the wildfire situation was over, Turner made it a point to let others know about Lee’s leadership. She nominated Lee for the Good Samaritan Society Ever Forward award for administrators.
“Because all that she does for us. I’m going to cry. Everything that she does for us. When we had the evacuation, she was just on top of everything,” Turner says. “She’s always kind to me, to the staff, to the residents. She just goes over and beyond.”
National Ever Forward Administrator Champion
Lee is one of six being recognized with a National Ever Forward award.
“Julie deserves this national award so much,” Lloyd says. “I love her. I’ve worked with her for 19 years and I wouldn’t want to work for anybody else.”
She is the administrator champion.
“The environment that we have here is very unique. It’s loving. We support each other,” director of dining services Max Humbrecht says. “She’ll jump in there if we’re short-staffed. She’s done that plenty of times before. Help us serve. Help us plate food.”
Resident Virgil Holtgrewe says the people who picked Lee for the honor got it right.
“This year was a very trying, trying year, and the evacuation thing was the testing point that really brought out the teamwork that can exist in an organization like this,” Holtgrewe says.
‘Strict and flexible’
Resident Roger Fjeld says it takes a special person to build what exists at Estes Park Village.
“It’s a combination of strict and flexible. Most of the time she gets it right. Only God gets it right all the time,” Roger says.
The 88-year-old is one of the first residents to live at the location. He and his wife Marilyn moved into a twin home here in 2002. Roger is a former president of Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
“I’m a Lutheran pastor by training. It’s kind of an accident that I ended up being a seminary president,” Roger says.
He knows what it takes to lead a campus and says Lee, who’s celebrating 18 years at Estes Park Village, does it gracefully.
“She did here what a pastor ought to do in a parish in terms of helping create community and flexibility around different people and different needs,” Roger says.
‘This is my family’
Roger’s wife died in 2018. They were married 63 years. Before that, when her health was deteriorating and she couldn’t get in the shower, Lee gently offered a helping hand.
“Julie just quietly said, ‘Why don’t you bring her over twice a week and we’ll take care of it in assisted living,’” Roger says.
It meant the world to Roger to have the love of his life watched over like that. It’s just one of the special memories he has with the Society and Lee.
Marilyn’s father and the Rev. August “Dad” Hoeger, the Good Samaritan Society’s founder, were seminary mates at Wartburg. It’s another connection to the Society that makes Roger feel comfortable living here.
“It’s home. I’m already sorting papers and stuff toward the time when I need to move here or there. But I don’t plan to go anywhere else. My kids are in Iowa and Washington, D.C. This is my family,” Roger says.
‘Without community, we’re nothing’
Creating bonds with staff and residents is important to Lee. Many call her a friend.
“She’s been a very good friend, and I just love her,” resident Louise Reeves says.
Being honest with those around her and offering constant communication builds trust and mutual respect.
“If we have that communication and that community with each other then we can share that with our staff and that will just flow to our residents. Without community, we’re nothing,” Lee says.
Leaning on her faith and doing it openly is why she’s with the Society and why she stays.
“When I left the hospital to come to work for Good Samaritan many years ago, it was the faith-based organization that really drew me to this,” Lee says. “As an administrator, you have to be yourself. You have to be able to live out your faith. You have to be able to lead with passion.”
Sharing award with colleagues
Not one to actively seek recognition, Lee hopes to share the award with her fellow administrators.
“I’m humbled by it because every administrator has fought a battle that we never thought we’d ever fight,” Lee says.
Not a single resident at Estes Park Village has tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year.
“The ever-changing environment, the rules, the regulations, it’s hard to keep up on. We did really well as far as the team goes. Everybody did their part,” Lee says.
Lifting up administrators at other locations handling COVID-19 outbreaks is top of mind.
“Every administrator that works in the Society, let alone in health care in general, should be up for this award just having to deal with COVID,” Julie says.
Thinking back to Roger’s connection to Dad Hoeger, Lee often reflects on the mission of the Society: providing health, healing and comfort.
“I’m just so grateful and thankful that he had the courage to see the vision of the Good Samaritan Society. It’s just my goal and my hope that we will continue to live out that mission day-to-day. Whether I’m here today, tomorrow, next week, 10 years from now, I just hope that that mission continues in Estes Park,” Lee says.
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