An elderly man named Charlie changed Brainerd resident Peggy Kates’ life forever.
Kates, who used to be a waitress, had her life turned around about 10 years ago. In a nutshell, this man Charlie and something inside Kates — of her wanting to make a difference in people’s lives — and a rare disease, turned Kates’ career from waitress to caregiver.
Kates met Charlie at the restaurant she worked at in Merrifield. She said Charlie got sick and wasn’t at the restaurant anymore, and then she got sick. She was hospitalized and later diagnosed with a rare gallbladder disease.
“I saw Charlie at the hospital and we talked,” said Kates, who then was hooked up to an IV (intravenous therapy). “He told me that he had good news and bad news. He had a kidney removed because of cancer – that was his good news. The bad news was that he had terminal cancer and didn’t have much time to live. At that point I seen white and all I could hear were nurses saying I had no blood pressure. I know this sounds strange but it’s true. I remember the phone ringing and thinking ‘Oh no, it’s my mom calling.’ It was. They had told her I had collapsed but it would be OK. The next thing I remembered was hearing a nurse tell Charlie he needed to rest ... He replied, ‘I will not leave her side until she is OK.’”
Kates said she had her gallbladder removed and in the meantime Charlie was released from the hospital and she was unable to talk to him.
“My life before (surgery) was in turmoil,” said Kates. “I was a single mom of three and spent a lot of time away from home.”
When Kates was released from the hospital she was determined to see Charlie.
“I thought if he comes to eat at the restaurant I worked at it would be on chicken night so I went to find him and he was there with his son,” said Kates. “He says to me, ‘Can you please be sick one more time so I can die a happy man?’ I was in awe. He then told me that when I had fallen he had caught me in his arms. He is the reason behind my wanting to take care of people. He passed away shortly after that day. He was 81.
I made an impact on him. He wrote about me to his children who later came to meet me. I was very touched.”
Fast forward to 2013 and Kates has never been happier helping people. She worked at the Almond House and Lutheran Social Services helping residents with caregiving needs.
“I always made time for all the residents,” said Kates. “I took care of a man in his 30s who had a traumatic brain injury who used to be my neighbor. We had a connection. He could not speak, but I knew all of his expressions.
Staff and others would ask me often how I do it with knowing what all the residents want ... I don’t know where I get it. I never went to college and I didn’t finish high school, but I know how to talk to people. I have a connection with people or whatever you want to call it.”
For the past four-and-a-half years Kates, who works for herself, has been a caregiver for Darlys and Sandra Every of Brainerd. The Everys, who are both wheelchair-bound, live independently on South Sixth Street in their home that doubles as Every’s American Family Insurance office. Darlys has been with American Family since 1968.
Darlys, at age 12, was stricken with polio in 1952. The Everys, who have been married for 50 years, need 24-hour care and their previous caregiver passed away. One of Kates’ friends works for Every and that is how they met.
“We are like family,” said Kates. “Yes, we have had our differences of opinions, but we have a connection.
I am here every day. It’s like being at home here. He works and she hangs out listening to music and doing crossword puzzles.”
The Everys said that Kates and the other girls who take care of them have been good to them.
Darlys, an avid sports fan, got Kates interested in watching college basketball and involved in the Brainerd Lakes Area Miracle League.
Every would like to get a handicapped accessible field built at Bane Park in Brainerd for the Miracle League of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that provides children with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. The field is being built with no taxpayer funds. Every said organizers have raised about $35,000 and need $140,000 to build the field.
Kates, who serves with Every on the Miracle League committee, said the field is not only for handicapped children, but for the community. Kates said organizers would like to have veterans and other groups utilize the field.
“The community doesn’t have an appropriate field for the disabled,” said Kates.
Kates said her involvement with the Miracle League ties into what she wants to do — “I’m being the voice for those who don’t have a voice.”
When the Everys and Kates are not watching sports or working on fundraising for the Miracle League, they enjoy their daily 2 p.m. tea time with a snack and also enjoy rescuing birds.
They also like spending summers at their cabin on South Long Lake.