Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wow! What a Year We Had in 2012!

by Chuck Jones

Christmas is past and the New Year is upon us.  How quickly a year passes when you’re having fun.  That’s an old cliché, I know, but so appropriate in my estimation.  We had a phenomenal year and it did, indeed, seem to go very fast for me. 

When we began back in 2004, we never dreamed we’d be having 18 weekend camps in one year. This is a picture of one camp near Paducah, Kentucky (bet you thought we made stroke survivors stay in tents, didn't ya?). This year we had camps in Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Arizona. Who knows where we'll be next year but with your help you can bet we'll be in these again, plus some more states before the year is out, and helping a few hundred more stroke survivors.  

And, on top of that, we had four MegaBrain exhibits across the country this year. This photo was taken at the Kansas City Black Expo in Kansas City, Missouri. That's the MegaBrain in the background. You can walk right through it, it's so big. The table you see in the foreground we nicknamed ELC or ELSIE for Educational Learning Center. It holds stroke related pamphlets and handouts, and has four laptops, each with 12 questions about strokes.
And, in addition to all that, we've implemented a few internet sites for your enjoyment:

a Stroke Camp internet web site for loads of information about stroke camp, camp dates and events, and to find resource links go to: (,

a Stroke Camp internet blog site for articles about camp current events, and thought provoking, informational, and fun articles like the one you're reading now (,

a Stroke Camp Chimes Choir site for information and videos of our chimes choir (,  

and our latest endeavor

a Stroke Camp internet store offering items imprinted with our logo (

I don't know what all this looks like to you but to me it looks like we learned how to dream and we figured out how to turn those dreams into reality.  More accurately I should say you readers turned our dreams into reality.  I know, you’ve heard that many times from many sources but, really, could we have done what we have done this year without you?  And by you I mean, first and foremost, you caregivers and survivors, then you volunteers, and medical support staff, and last but certainly not least you sponsors and those of you who sent donations and did other things to make our camps succeed.  No, we couldn’t have done a thing without you.  We needed all of you to make it all happen!

So what does the future hold for us now that we’ve learned to make those dreams a reality? For one thing we’ve learned to dream bigger.  The number of weekend camps will be growing in the coming years and our MegaBrain presence will be expanding to more Expos and our copyrighted Strike Out Stroke events at major league baseball games and other places.

Here's one item I gleaned from the newsletter that will give you an inkling of what the future holds:

"Did You Know?  In order to meet our mission to impact more stroke survivors and caregivers, Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp is on a path to be providing 50 camps nationwide within the next five years."

As David Letterman says occasionally on his show, "Hold on to your wigs and keys ladies and gentlemen!" we have an exciting and challenging future ahead for your Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp staff and friends.

Following are the articles from the December Holiday Edition of the camp newsletter. If you've already read the newsletter you can go finish your Christmas shopping now.

This Christmas season, like every Christmas, brings thoughts of wonder to my mind.  The wonder of new babies, the wonder of miracles, the wonder of wise men, shepherds, and angels following God’s call.  When I was a child, I remember my biggest dream was to be a mother.  I loved nurturing my dolls and stuffed animals and in my mind, they loved me back.  I was blessed to become a mother to two fabulous sons. Every phase of parenting these gifts from God, while not always easy, has been a joy.  God has been with me through all of life’s trials and tribulations. Besides the death of my father in a car accident when I was still a child, my biggest challenge in life has been adjusting to “living with stroke”.  I took on this challenge with enthusiasm, optimism, and hope. When I started the first camp, with lots and lots of help from family and friends, it was another dream come true.  To get our stroke friends together for that first fun and relaxing weekend is another highlight in my life. Looking back since that time, I am amazed at how God led me by the hand and to the right people as we added more and more camps. In life we sometimes get in our own way trying to figure out the “how to”. God always knows the “how to”. If you are feeling like giving up on rehab, feeling sorry for yourself, or saying “I can’t do that”, remember God can do anything.  When thinking those negative thoughts, reflect on the wonder of our universe, the day-to-day miracles happening around you, and open yourself to try new things. Be grateful for every day and each hour you are given. No matter what your beliefs are, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and face the New Year with the wonder for what is in store for you. I know I am. 

Many of you don’t know this about me, but my “other” job for more than 50 years has been working on a family produce farm.  As is typical of farming, it can have its ups and downs from year to year.  At the family farm, we are about to wrap up the 2012 season by offering our final item, live Christmas trees.   This means that I have the pleasure of helping a lot of people pick out just the right tree.  It is such a festive time and quite entertaining to watch families make their selection.  Some want a tall thin tree and others want them shorter and a bit chubby.  A tree can be turned away by one family and chosen as the perfect tree by another.  Even the imperfect trees can have its branches trimmed and made into a magnificent wreath.  In farming, as in life, there are good seasons with bountiful crops and some seasons where we take a loss and are discouraged.  So even if this has been a year with a less than perfect crop for you, remember there’s always next year. Holiday wishes to you and your family.

Greetings to all the Stroke Camp campers, volunteers, and friends,

Throughout my life, I have participated in many career day type seminars where they ask what you want to be doing in a year, five years, ten years, etc…  It’s interesting how the answer to this question never seems to turn out how you had planned.  Ten years ago I would have said that I would be working with children with autism as a music therapist.  Four years ago I would have said that I would be working with seniors on a daily basis.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be working for a non-profit based out of Peoria, IL.  I hadn’t even heard of Stroke Camp!  Luckily for me, the stars aligned and my relationship with Stroke Camp developed and progressed just as it was intended to be.

The past 10 months with Stroke Camp have been a whirlwind: from speaking to 25 fifth grade classes about stroke education, organizing and planning 18 camps in nine states, multiple fundraisers, and logo-wear merchandise, I never know what the next day will bring.  Although it has been busy, I wouldn’t trade what I am doing for anything!

I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed working with Marylee, Larry, and all the Stroke Camp volunteers throughout the year.  But more important to me is meeting the hundreds of inspirational stroke survivors and caregivers with whom I have had the privilege to spend time.  You all are the reason we do what we do!

I wish you all a very blessed, happy, healthy, and joyous holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

In the October/November 2012 Stroke Camp newsletter, we described the DVD project that we have been working on over the past year. The production company, ABS Productions, Inc., based in Denver, Colorado,  is completing the final edits of the 17 categories.  After hundreds of hours of editing, the project will be finished in the next couple of weeks.  Individual copies of this educational DVD will be available for purchase from the stroke camp website ( ) beginning in 2013. At that time, pricing and shipping information will also be available.  The DVD may also be requested by calling Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp™ at 309-688-5450 or 866-688-5450

Thoughts and Get Well Wishes for        CHUCK & LIZ HOFVANDER
Many of you have enjoyed the articles written by stroke survivor Chuck Hofvander over the past few years.  He has been interviewing stroke survivors and caregivers for several years and then writes articles telling their stories.  Those have been in almost every issue of our newsletter.  Unfortunately, in late October, Chuck had a cycling accident as he avoided a collision with a turning car.  He was seriously injured and subsequently suffered another stroke.  Since the accident, he has been able to return home and is in outpatient therapy. He and his wife, Liz, need our thoughts and prayers.  Liz feels as if she has traveled “back in time” as if it were his first stroke all over again.  We will try and post updates on Facebook from time to time so you can keep up on his recovery.  If I know Chuck, he will be driving everyone crazy trying to get back to his writing as soon as humanly possible.  Until then, we’ll struggle on ourselves and do the best we can!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

FUN by Sarah Christy

[Editor's note: Sarah Christy is a member of the camp's Board of Directors. She and her husband, Boyd, are very active with camp activities and instrumental in its founding. She and Boyd are one of the reasons the camp is so successful.]

by Sarah Christy
Whenever I am talking to someone about stroke camp the first word I use to describe camp is FUN.  As sister to the executive director, Marylee Nunley, I have been involved as a volunteer since the first retreat was held.  My husband, Boyd and I had participated in church camping for many years, so we had lots of experience with FUN.  Stroke camp has many opportunities of education, relaxation, fellowship and everything we do is important.  One of the benefits of being at a weekend retreat is the feeling of being away from all the structures and expectations of life.  For a weekend you can relax and enjoy life without so many responsibilities and one of those ways is to laugh and smile. 

Keeping a sense of humor is one of the ways that we survive to challenges and disappointments of life.  Coping with stroke isn’t easy and if you can remember to smile and laugh at the humorous moments it helps. 

One of the ways we insert some fun and laughter is having a skit at the end of every meal.   I am married to “Mr. Skit Man.”  He loves to clown and make people laugh and smile.    He taught me that doing skits isn’t acting.  It is clowning.  As I have done more and more skits I have learned to embellish the script with my own personality.  Our favorite skit of the 2012 camp season was the story of two ladies who had just arrived in heaven.  So we put on our angel wings and halos and had a conversation:   the two ladies greeted each other and inquired what they had died of…..the first lady said she had froze to death…the second lady told the story of dying of a heart attack.  She was convinced that her husband had a girlfriend and she came home looking for her….she ran all over the house upstairs and downstairs searching and searching….she got so exhausted that she dropped over dead of a heart attack….the lady who froze to death delivered the punch line  “well, if you had looked in the freezer we would both still be alive”.

Besides the formal programming, we also like to do some FUN camp games like relay races.  This past year since our theme was “going on a cruise.”  We had a “Tommy the Tourist” relay.  At the Living Springs camp that is held in Lewistown , IL, the heart of farm country, we always have fresh corn on the cob for one of our meals.  So we figured out a way to help the cooks by having a corn shucking contest.  At summer camps we will do water balloon games, hayrack rides, and other activities that bring back FUN memories of earlier times.

As we start planning for our tenth season of stroke camp we are planning on lots of FUN. 
Thank you Sarah for all that you do for our camps.
My greatest wish is that you will enjoy this time with family and friends, and remember this greatest gift of all that God has given us. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Survivor Story - Robert Hutcheson Stroke in July 2001

I want to offer an apology to those of you who visited here Monday and read the Black Hills story by Chuck Hofvander and now find it replaced with this one. If it looked familiar to you, yesterday's blog about Black Hills was a duplicate of one I posted last October. Not sure how that slipped by me. The one below about Robert Hutcheson  is the one intended. However, if you missed the Black Hills story and still want to read it, click on the October link under Blog Archive at the right of your screen and you'll find the story under that.   

by Chuck Hofvander

Robert Hutcheson  Stroke in July 2001

The normal process was: Get up, walk down the hall, go into the bathroom, do whatever was needed and repeat the same thing in reverse. But in July 0f 2001 things were not normal. Bob got up, walk down the hall, got into the bathroom and passed out. Passed out? Stop, something must be wrong with this picture.

Bob recalls falling, trying to get up, failing again but nothing after that. His wife came into the bathroom to see what was wrong and, for some reason, she knew right away Bob had suffered a stroke even though as Bob says “she doesn’t have a doctor’s degree.”

From this point on until three weeks later Bob has only intermittent moments of memory. His wife called their son and they drove Bob to the hospital. On their way there, his speech recovering for a few moments, he asked his son “how fast are we going” and his son responded “don’t worry about it Dad, I don’t have a drivers license anyway.”

They airlifted him to St. Anthony’s hospital in Rockford and then after one week they transferred Bob to Rockford Memorial.  His wife tells him that he could not sit, stand, walk, or carry on a conversation but he has no memory of what happened during those three weeks; after Bob recovered his memory his wife said he used that to ignore her.

He soon recovered his memory Bob was sure after three years he would be like he was “like recovering from a cold”.  He said to himself “Don’t get happy here your ass is going to beat this”.  He was so sure that he’d beat stroke he signed a three lease on a farm. But he soon realized that was his life now.

Before the stroke Bob had a positive attitude toward life and it continued after the stroke. Bob says “life goes on and things are different today and they will be different tomorrow, you have to adjust to it.” Bob goes on to say “Be yourself and try to make things better going forward.”
Great advice for us all to live by.    

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Survivor Story - Carol Evans

Interview by Chuck Hofvander

Carol Evans sometime between November 24-28 2005

Carol has no memory of what happened after that Thanksgiving morning and for four days after that. She says “I didn’t know who made meals”. That Thanksgiving afternoon and night she was confused, her words were garbled, and she couldn’t walk for a time but no one took note of that.

On Sunday, the 28th, before Carol went to church, she got into the car and started to drive but Carol didn’t have any idea where her destination was; luckily I didn’t kill myself or someone else.” When Carol finally arrived at church she walked unsteadily, without propose. That evening, she fell into the Christmas tree. Her family called her doctor but because it was Sunday the call was answered by the doctor’s answering service. Her family explained the symptom’s and was told the doctor would contact them.

Monday morning came and she was driving to work at a local school when her cell phone rang but she didn’t know how the call should be answered. It was a lucky thing she was driving her grandson and he answered the phone. It was her doctor, he instructed Donna’s grandson to get her to the hospital right away. Carol had had a stroke. After treatment at the first hospital she was transferred Van Mater Rehab Hospital and she described herself “I was a 54 year old woman with bumper pads”.

Carol’s family should have known the warning signs of stroke however they didn’t. They should have known because her mom had a stroke. They didn’t know how important it was to get Carol to the hospital right away.  The family didn’t know how important it is to have support when you’re in rehab and at home.

Now that Carol’s recovered; don’t kid yourself no one ever recovers from stroke for example she says “I had a spot removed from my leg and it was bleeding but instead of bandaging it I ignored it, I just said it was ok.” Carol goes on “ whenever someone says go to the doctor I listen. I’ve got to be careful; I don’t realize I could be in a life or death situation”.

Not only that, Carol gets upset when things get out of the normal routine. She gets upset when things are changed from eating breakfast, to going to bed, going to the store, whatever. Changes in routine set her off.

When asked how she looks at life now she responds:  “At first I was in a shell when it happened. I was afraid to go out in public; I couldn’t do shopping in stores of the large size and all those people. My brain couldn’t handle it.” She was afraid to start new things, she was afraid of meeting new people, and doing something different.

Now Carol’s attitude to life has changed “I’ve got to look on the bright side now, I don’t know if I will get better but I’ve come a long way”. She now says:  “I feel like I fit in, I feel that people accept me as I am. They don’t feel sorry for me.”

Carol reveals that “there is someone worse than I am” and it makes her want to try harder and do better. Carol goes on: “I’m back, I have goals, I could be lying in a hospital and I’m not.”  

Her advice for ones that had a stroke: “Never give up, to keep on fighting, move forward, to get involved with other people so they can see there is hope down the road.”