90-year-old hospice volunteer is 'superstar friend' to patients

- From visits in the middle of the night to going to the library to research someone else's hobby, one Twin Cities hospice volunteer stands out amongst the rest.

John Bergstrom first started volunteering his time with hospice patients five years ago. At 90 years old, he shares a special connection with just about everyone he sits and visits with.

“With the age group I’m working with we are all in the same frame of time,” Bergstrom said. “Each day we've got has been given to us.”

With one of his patients, George, it happens to be their common bond of military memories and reminiscing about working in the trucking industry. Alzheimer’s and the health problems that brought George to Southdale Acres are far from the focus of their conversations.

“They say it’s not true, but I think it's kind of a selfish program. You get so much more out of it then you give,” Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom gives a lot. He has logged 600 hours since 2012 and visits with 71 different patients, which recently earned him a Health Partners hospice volunteer service award.

“Whatever we need he's there - in the middle of the night. He'll do visits from midnight to 4 a.m. [or] 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. He is invaluable,” Barb Szaflarski, a Health Partners hospice care coordinator, said. 

“It's amazing how the patients come alive after visiting with John, because he's connecting with them in such a way,” Szaflarski told Fox 9.

Weekly visits for a couple of years found a special place in the hearts of the Zentener family.

The family couldn't be there when 100-year-old Alma passed away, then her 101-year-old husband Richard died four days later.

“It was so comforting because it was 11 p.m. at night and John was there sitting with [Richard] and just leaving us notes saying he was peaceful and appeared comfortable. It was very helpful,” Lynn Zentner said. 

Zentner said Bergstrom was a superstar friend to her in-laws during their last few years.

Researching a topic that may help get a patient talking is just part Bergstrom’s secret. He is now mentoring other volunteers, which are always in high demand.

“It might be repetition every week when you come, but you've got one thing they remember,” Bergstrom said. “We've got that small portion of time we are both talking in the same frame of time. If you get lucky it keeps going on. Just like with George, more and more comes back and he became more vocal and now we are able to hear him tell the stories.”

Naturally as he ages along with the people he visits, Bergstrom often reflects on his own life and mortality.

But happy and healthy enough to help, Bergstrom said plans to continue his work with hospice as long as he can.

‘It gives you a reflection of how lucky and fortunate you are,” Bergstrom said.


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