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A Voice for the Good: Stillwater Hospice

3Rivers is proud to support so many of the non-profit organizations that are committed to making our community a better place to live, work, and play, and we want to help spread the word about the difference they're making in our region. We’ve teamed up with 97.3WMEE to bring you A Voice for the Good podcast to do just that! We’re temporarily bringing the podcast to you via these Q&A online articles, as we’re doing our part to social distance and keep our community safe.

This article features Stillwater Hospice—a local non-profit on a mission to provide “compassion, comfort, and guidance through life’s journey.”

Stillwater Hospice Logo

We talked with Bonnie Blackburn-Penhollow, Director of Communications at Stillwater Hospice, to learn more about this organization and its work in the Northeast Indiana community.

How did Stillwater Hospice come to be? What’s the history/story behind how the organization initially got started?

The seeds of Stillwater Hospice, formerly known as Visiting Nurse, were planted in Fort Wayne in 1888, when a group of generous Fort Wayne women, many of them wives of the city founders, began a visiting nurse committee known as the “Ladies Relief Union.”  Initial dues were one dollar, and the mission was to “help the sick poor of Fort Wayne.” They used wagons and carriages to take food to the ill.

It did not take long to realize that there was a link between poverty and disease. Dr. Jessie Calvin, a pioneer of sanitation and indoor plumbing in Fort Wayne, began speaking to groups of church women about community needs and enlisting their help to raise money to hire a trained nurse. An organizational meeting was held on March 1, 1900, and the “Visiting Nurse League” was born. 

Miss Josephine Shatzer was hired as the first nurse with a salary of $10 per week. She made nursing visits via bicycle or by trolley in inclement weather. She had six patients the first day and “was kindly received.” She initiated a baby milk station at First Presbyterian Church where she taught new mothers how to prepare formula. Miss Shatzer gave her time at free immunization clinics, one of which was provided by Wolf and Dessauer. Her patients loved her and members of the Fort Wayne Medical Society praised her “thoroughness and compassion”. She bathed patients, brought them flowers and delicious meals, changed their bedding, ventilated the room, gave massages, read comforting words, gave baths, dressed wounds, took patients for walks and taught family members how to give nursing care, and how to become self-supporting. Even in 1900, she realized the benefits of maintaining the aged and ill in their homes. The cost of a one-hour visit was 15 cents, or free if the patient was unable to pay. By the end of the first year, Miss Shatzer was making an average of 115 visits per month.

A Stillwater Hospice caregiver's and patient's hands.

The term “hospice” (from the same linguistic root as “hospitality”) can be traced back to medieval times, when it referred to a place of shelter and rest for weary or ill travelers on a long journey.  The name was first applied to specialized care for dying patients by physician Dame Cicely Saunders, who began her work with the terminally ill in 1948 and eventually went on to create the first modern hospice—St. Christopher’s Hospice—in a residential suburb of London.

In February 2001, the new Hospice Home facility opened on Homestead Road and was truly a landmark in our history and in our ability to reach out more effectively to those in need of hospice care. A music therapy program was added and in 2006, a building expansion added three additional patient rooms. In 2023, our Hospice Home is undergoing a renovation made possible through the generosity of our community.

In 2015, The Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center opened on the Stillwater Hospice campus to provide grief and bereavement services to those who go on living. Bereavement counselors are available for one-on-one sessions as well as group sessions at the Grief Center or in the community. All bereavement sessions are offered at no charge.

Today, Stillwater Hospice provides end-of-life and palliative care to patients in a 12-county region of northeast Indiana. Our 200-strong staff made more than 45,000 visits to patients and families in 2022, and our 125 volunteers put in more than 6,000 hours of service to our patients and their families. In 2022, our clinical staff traveled in excess of 400,000 miles to see our patients in their homes, nursing facilities, and hospitals. Stillwater Hospice provides care regardless of the ability to pay.

What is the official mission of Stillwater Hospice, and how is it currently being put into play?

Stillwater Hospice provides compassion, comfort, and guidance through life’s journey. In addition to our mission, we also uphold 5 values: compassion, stewardship, inclusivity, comfort, and guidance. In everything we do, we lead with love. We work to continually improve how we provide care for more than 4,000 people annually in northeast Indiana.

How do you see the mission and vision of Stillwater Hospice evolving in the future in the Northeast Indiana community? Where do you see your organization a year from now, or even five years from now?

Stillwater Hospice’s mission has always continued to stay true to caring for individuals who are seriously ill and in need of comfort and compassion.  Although our service lines have adjusted and expanded over the years, we have always evolved to help meet the needs of the community at that time.  In the coming year, Stillwater Hospice will continue to provide patient-centered hospice care and walk alongside the family and friends who will experience the loss of a loved one.  Stillwater Hospice is always looking ahead and who knows, in five years we may have completed another acquisition or partnership with another nonprofit providing similar services and who are looking to become part of a larger organization.

A Stillwater Hospice caregiver, patient, and family member.

Are there any exciting new developments, updates, or changes that have recently taken place at Stillwater Hospice?

On March 1, 2023, Stillwater Hospice and Kosciusko Home Care and Hospice joined together under the Stillwater banner. We are also currently undergoing renovations at Hospice Home, the region’s only freestanding inpatient hospice facility. We are also offering expanded programming at the Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center in 2023, including Memories of Mom and Dedication to Dad, Invisible Ink journal writing, and Healing through Art and Healing Through Music.

What kind of impact has the global pandemic had on Stillwater Hospice, and how has the organization pivoted or gotten innovative in response?

COVID impacted every aspect of our agency. Because we care for the most medically fragile patients, we worked diligently to ensure our caregivers were supplied with personal protective equipment to reduce disease transmission. In response to the pandemic, we have strengthened our telemedicine program, including providing video conferencing for grief counseling.

Could you share a standout story or two that really illustrates the impact Stillwater Hospice and/or its programs has on those in our community?

It is really difficult to only choose one story or to discuss one patient or family circumstance because each and every day we are serving unique patients in unique situations.  What I can say is that Stillwater Hospice has cared for patients of all ages, from as young as just a few days old to patients well over 100.  Each patient and family that we serve has a story and we are honored to have the opportunity to be a part of their story and a part of their family as they face serious illness. 

A Stillwater Hospice patient and caregiver.

How can those interested in your services go about getting started or getting in touch?

They can call us at 800.288.4111, 24 hours a day, or visit us at to learn more about our services and how we can help when faced with serious illness.

Are there other local non-profit organizations that Stillwater Hospice works/partners with to enhance their programs?

Stillwater Hospice partners with Cancer Services, Erin’s House for Grieving Children, The Rescue Mission, Aging and In-Home Services, and others to ensure that anyone who needs services receives them.

Are there opportunities for community members to volunteer at Stillwater Hospice—and if so, how can they go about learning more?

Volunteers are an essential part of Stillwater’s mission. We have a 125+ strong volunteer team, who serve in various capacities, including performing administrative tasks, staffing the reception desk at Hospice Home, volunteering in our beautiful gardens, or providing respite care at the bedside to give caregivers much-needed rest. Please contact us to learn more!

A donation of quilts to Stillwater Hospice.

In what other ways can community members support Stillwater Hospice—be it through monetary donations, material donations, education, etc.? Do you have an itemized wish list of any kind or utilize options like AmazonSmile to raise funds?

Stillwater is grateful that we have long been supported by the community, through memorial contributions, donations or grants. We are in need of baby monitors, lap blankets, adult coloring books, and birdseed. Learn more about donations on our website.

Where can our readers learn more about Stillwater Hospice or about getting involved?

You can visit, or follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Or simply call us at 800.288.4111 and ask how we can help still the waters of life-limiting illnesses.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Stillwater Hospice?

It’s never too early to learn about the services that we have to offer.  We encourage individuals to seek out information about hospice, palliative, and grief support services long before you or a family member ever needs them. 

Stillwater Hospice team members are available to speak to groups in the community about our services if you are looking for a speaker, please reach out to connect with us! 

We also love the opportunity to provide tours of our Fort Wayne campus, so if you are interested in learning more about our career opportunities, volunteering, giving back, or our services, don’t wait, reach out to us today!

Interested in featuring your non-profit on our website and on 97.3WMEE’s A Voice for the Good? Text "VOICE" to 46862! Please note that this may lead you to incur standard text messaging rates or other applicable charges consistent with your wireless carrier/mobile phone plan.

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