GRAND NIGHT FOR A GALA
13th fundraiser for the Freeman Regional Heath Services Foundation hits all the right notes; goal of $60,000 for DEXA scanner exceeded
More than 170 men and women from the Freeman community and surrounding area dressed for the formal occasion that it was; an impressive spread of heavy hors d’oeuvres and various wines were enjoyed to the piano and vocal sounds provided by Amber Hopkins; dozens of donated items were sold on the silent and live auction blocks; and Terri Behl, a longtime PA at Freeman Regional Health Services (FRHS), shared a personal story about her battle with osteoporosis as the 13th annual FRHS Foundation Gala unfolded at the Freeman Community Center on a mild winter night Saturday, Jan. 27.
This year’s fundraiser was presented by Merchants State Bank and billed as “Eat, Drink and be Giving,” with a goal of raising $60,000 in support of a new in-house DEXA scanner, which tests bone density.
Tabitha Schoenwald, marking and foundation director at FRHS, told The Courier on Monday that it appears the goal was exceeded by more than $5,000.
All of it added up to another banner night for the foundation that works in support of Freeman’s health care system.
“We are overwhelmed with gratitude as we reflect on the incredible success of this year’s gala,” said Schoenwald. “On behalf of the Foundation and Freeman Regional, we want to express our deepest appreciation to our sponsors, donors, ticket holders, speakers, musician and all who contributed to making this event a resounding success. With the support and generosity of the communities we serve, we not only met but surpassed our fundraising goal. Due to the gala success, we expect the DEXA scanner to be available for our patients in the spring of this year.
“We are truly grateful for the belief in our mission,” she continued. “Here’s to ‘Investing in a Healthy Future’ together!”
Behl shares story
Included in the evening program were those comments by Behl, who used her own medical journey to speak to the value of having a DEXA scanner as part of the permanent equipment available to the medical team — and the patients — at FRHS.
“I’m here to talk to you, because I have osteoporosis,” said Behl, who explained that osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them thinner and less dense. “In simple terms, your bones are living tissue. They’re constantly replacing their own cells throughout your lives. After the age of 35, bone breakdown happens faster than your body can rebuild it, causing a gradual loss of bone density.”
Behl noted that osteoporosis is common in those in later years. It’s estimated that half of all women and one in four men over the age of 50 have the disease, she said, which does not present itself in terms of signs or symptoms, although loss of height, changes in posture, back pain and shortness of breath may be clues, she said.
“Most people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they have a DEXA scan or sustain a fracture,” she said.
Behl learned that she had osteoporosis after fracturing her rib and having a DEXA scan at the hospital in Parkston. Within 30 minutes of the scan, she said, she knew she had the disease and, in the past two years, has been able to monitor it and manage it accordingly.
“I still have osteoporosis, but my bones are stronger,” she said. “Having the DEXA scan and finding out I had osteoporosis made me aware that I have to take extra precautions to prevent a fall and a fracture.”
Behl said the acquisition of DEXA technology at FRHS — which measures bone density in several areas, including the hip, spine and wrists — will go a long way toward an improved health care experience locally.
“Medical experts consider DEXA the gold standard,” she said. “It’s the most useful, non-evasive and inexpensive test used to diagnose osteopenia (early onset) or osteoporosis. It’s quick, it’s painless and there’s nothing special you have to do before the test.
“Having a DEXA scan in house will be an amazing advantage to our patients,” Behl continued. “As a provider myself, having a DEXA scanner that we can utilize on a more frequent basis will mean knowing sooner if someone has osteoporosis, and we can start treatment faster.”
From the CEO
Saturday’s gala included comments from FRHS CEO Courtney Unruh, who called the night “a testament to the power of collective generosity and the unwavering support from our incredible community.
“First, I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the incredible Tabitha Schoenwald,” Unruh said. “Her exceptional efforts have transformed this evening into a magical experience. Tabitha, your dedication has not gone unnoticed, and we are immensely grateful for everything you’ve done.
“I also want to extend a sincere thank you to Dawn Walz from Vintage Vault Floral.
“To our sponsors, donors and each one of you in attendance, thank you for your generosity, dedication and commitment to the health and wellness of our communities.
“Many sponsors have taken the opportunity to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. The support both in the past and present, has been instrumental in our journey.”
Unruh recognized the FRHS Board of Directors:
President Lori Uecker
Vice-President Steve Fuhrmann
Treasurer Jason Aanenson
Secretary Cindi Mutchelknaus
And, she continued, “a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes out to our exceptional doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, our wonderful employees in every department, the Foundation Advisory Council, the Hospital Auxiliary, and our area EMS and fire departments, all of whom play a crucial role in supporting rural healthcare.”
And she gave a nod to both the recent past and what’s to come.
“Reflecting on the past year, we witnessed the remarkable spirit of giving, as we raised over $53,000 for a new CT machine, significantly improving our diagnostic technology,” Unruh said. “The merger of Freeman Regional and the Salem Home in 2023 marked a milestone in our commitment of enhancing the health and wellness of our communities for generations to come and our journey toward a healthcare campus for all generations.
“Our journey continued this past fall as providers, board members, and leaders toured rural Avera healthcare campuses.
“We were able to collectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of each community’s campus. Through this process, we determined an ideal layout and design for the hospital and clinic that will meet the unique needs of Freeman and its surrounding communities.”
“In the coming months, we will tour senior living campuses, refining our plan for a comprehensive healthcare campus. As we navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the healthcare industry, your continued support is vital … your partnership in advancing healthcare is immensely valued.
“Together, let’s make a lasting impact on enhancing the health and wellness of our communities for generations to come.”
Odds and ends
Saturday’s gala also featured the return of master of ceremonies Dean Dreessen, the CEO and president of presenting sponsor Merchants State Bank, and dinner music provided by Amber Hopkins, who has been playing the piano since age 7 and whose music is available on various streaming platforms. She and her husband, Lance, have two children and moved to rural Freeman in early 2021.
This year’s gala also included the presentation of the inaugural “Friends of the Foundation” award that was awarded to Ken Wintersteen of Olivet, who has volunteered his time as the auctioneer at each of the first 13 galas and has in the past few years found himself on a journey through cancer.
“The ‘Friend of the Foundation’ award has been established to express gratitude to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional commitment and made significant contributions to the FRHS Foundation and, by extension, to the healthcare services provided by Freeman Regional,” Schoenwald said in remarks shared Saturday night. “This award reflects the spirit of community, generosity and collaboration that lies at the heart of our foundation’s mission of ‘Investing in a healthy future.’”
She called Wintersteen “a true friend of the foundation.”
“Ken Wintersteen has been an integral part of our annual gala, elevating the live auction experience and contributing to the success of our fundraising efforts,” Schoenwald continued. “His remarkable dedication goes beyond the auction podium, embodying the essence of community support and philanthropy.
“Recognizing Ken with the ‘Friend of the Foundation’ award is a small token of our immense appreciation for his enduring commitment to our cause. For 13 years, he has been the voice behind our live auction, helping us raise vital funds for our rural facilities. His generosity, both in time and talent, has left a mark on our foundation.”