Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Caring for the Dying

Lutheran high school students learn about life in a special way.

Esther “Sis” Soukup remembers the day in the early 1970s when a local funeral director spoke at her son’s high school in Lakeville, Minnesota. He requested the name of a responsible young man who might be able to help him. Administrators at the school recommended Sis’ son, Jim, who became his assistant.
Last November, Sis needed help herself. Her second husband, Norbert, was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) in July, 2000. When she could no longer lift him, she remembered how the Lakeville funeral director had gone looking for help. She decided to do the same thing.
“Id drive by Concordia Academy in Roseville, on my way to the beauty shop or to the grocery store, and knew I needed to stop there.” She walked into the school office and made her request. Within two weeks, Concordia Academy senior John Kruger responded.
“I got a note on my locker and gave the Soukups a call,” he remembers. Kruger met Norbert and Sis, and volunteered to help Norb on a daily basis.
In the following months, Kruger’s classmates, Garrett Kramer and Dan Boche, assisted him. They were joined by an acquaintance of the Soukups, college student Shea Carlson.
The boys took turns making visits at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. daily. Their task involved moving Norb Soukup from a lift chair into a wheelchair, assisting him back again, and helping him get into bed at night.
After Soukup’s personal needs were met, he and the boys found time to visit while Sis made them a treat. All three boys played football at Concor-dia Academy. They began bringing their game tapes to share with Soukup. Having played high school football himself, Soukup enjoyed the banter and even memorized their stats.
A one-time owner of Pre Stressed Concrete in St. Paul, Soukup also enjoyed discussing physics with Kruger, who was studying it in the classroom.
Sis Soukup’s sister, Lou Harvey, reflected on what the three young men brought to their family. “They gave all of us hope.”
Said Kruger, “It was a humbling experience, just to help Norb keep some of his dignity.”
Boche added, “You pretty much stepped in the door with an open heart and an open mind.”
All three of the Concordia volunteers said they say God’s hand in the opportunity they received. Said Kruger, “My relationship with God had everything to do with [doing this]. I grew through helping Norb.”
Garrett Kramer added, “It was amazing. It was about much more than just lifting Norb Soukup. I got to bless someone with what God has blessed me. [Because we were there] he didn’t have to go to a nursing home”
Said Sis Soukup, “Because of them, Norb was able to stay at home. It’s amazing that they would care so much about total strangers!”
Norbert Soukup died on March 26. The three young men who had cared for him in his final days felt they had lost a friend. “Not until he died did we realize how close they had become, or realize their grief.” Sis explained.
The three Concordia students were pallbearers at the funeral. John and Garrett sang a duet, “How Great Thou Art.” It was one of Norbert’s favorite hymns.
Norb Soukup’s life has ended, but the relationship between Sis and the three young men has continued. “I didn’t drop them and they didn’t drop me,” she said. “They are still coming to see me.”
The boys make daily visits to check up on Sis. In April, she even made a visit to Concordia Academy to watch the Grand March for their prom, and was surprised when Kramer walked the perimeter of the gymnasium to bring her a rose.
All three plan to make Sis a part of their future. This fall, as John, Garrett, and Dan head to college, they will visit her often and stay in touch.
John Kruger is a member of Jehovah Lutheran (LCMS), St. Paul. Garrett Kramer is a member of King of Kings Lutheran (LCMS), Roseville. Dan Boche is a member of St. James Lutheran (an independent congregation), West St. Paul.