Hospice volunteer donates more than 4,000 hours to Iowa hospital

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- A former special education teacher is among those who have been nominated for a '9 Who Care Award' but it is what he has done in retirement many say they will remember him for the most.

In rooms adjacent to a wide corridor is where many will take their final breath. This is what the hospice floor at St. Luke's hospital in Cedar Rapids looks like and when we stopped by it would be where Rex Bonebrake's sister-in-law planned to end a life well lived.

The pain expressed in Rex's heart was written with tears hospice volunteer Todd Betzer knows how to read all too well.

Betzer uses words, sometimes an embrace, but he always finds a way to make a connection with a troubled soul.

Betzer's approach is difficult to replicate, however, the spiritual gifts he has given countless families during the more than 4,000 hours he has donated to the hospital over the last 5 years are easily understood.

"He's damn good," said Bonebrake. "I can say that I did take a great deal of comfort interacting with him today."

Todd has seen death up close more than anyone should.

"I volunteered for the Army in 1961," said Betzer. "I was in combat role and in a combat role we saw a lot of action."

What Betzer experienced during his service in a Vietnam village he credits with giving him his passion for helping others. Betzer says there he saw a family who had been killed in a home that had been bombed.

"I made a vow to that family that I would do what I could throughout my life to ensure their lives had not been in vain," said Betzer.

Over the years Betzer has worn many hats at the hospital which include hospice volunteer, greeter and lay chaplain, but he says his favorite job of all is being a friend.

The friendship Betzer offered is what Rosemary Dreismier recalls most when she thinks of how he treated her and her late husband, Roger, when the couple found themselves on the hospice floor at St. Luke's two-and-a-half years ago.

It was Todd's lesson in compassion that inspired Rosemary to become a hospice volunteer herself.

"When I walked out of that room I thought to myself angels come in many disguises," said Dreismier.

Kurt Rogahn oversees Betzer's work. In Rogahn's view, there is a simple solution to making the world a better place, just add more Betzers to it.

"He is somebody who sometimes spends time up here on the unit with patients who are in the very final hours of life," said Rogahn. "They are dying and Todd is a quiet, steady presence for them."

Betzer is reluctant to be in the spotlight for what he is doing at St. Luke's, choosing to pass along any accolades to God.

"I'm the vessel which God works and I allow myself to be that," said Betzer.