The Beacon House Can Be a Safe Port during Medical Storms
One dollar and 38 cents – that’s what one guest at the Beacon House in Marquette left for an overnight stay there. The payment envelope also had a note that explained he gave all he had, keeping just enough to get home.
Lucky for that guest, $1.38 covered his costs – and no apology was needed. Luckier still, the Beacon House was there for him.
For two decades, the Beacon House has been a haven for people staying in Marquette for medical services or to be with loved ones using those services. It is within blocks of Marquette General Hospital and Peninsula Medical Center, which draw patients from the whole Upper Peninsula and into Wisconsin.
“I can’t tell you how many people get here just by the skin of their teeth – just enough gas money to get to Marquette,” says Mary Dowling, director of development for the house, which offers 34 rooms.
Beacon House was started by hospital auxiliary volunteers after, so the story goes, one encountered a man using his car’s rearview mirror to shave in the hospital parking lot. Perhaps he was undergoing six weeks of cancer outpatient treatment. Or maybe he was there to be near a loved one in the hospital. Either way, he was shaving in the car because that’s where he’d been sleeping. That caused action.
The hospitality house opened in 1990 in an actual house with just a few rooms. Soon a second house was added. In 2002, the operation transferred to a former motel. Since then, more than 177,000 stays have been logged at Beacon House, now one of the largest independently owned hospitality houses in the nation. The non-profit operation has boxes of testimonials from grateful guests whose high medical costs had drained budgets and who needed a safe, friendly place like the Beacon House to find support.
Guests may face long outpatient treatments for themselves or family. Some have infants in neonatal intensive care or are with family or friends during their last days. Some have family recovering from accidents or medical problems.
“We’re just a really important part of the healing process,” Mary says. “Patients do better when their loved ones are nearby. People just get better faster.”
Guests may stay as long as a medical need exists. All have touching stories.
Mary and the house’s director of operations, Kellie Barry-Angeli, both frequently pause to hold back their emotions while talking about guests.
“Oh, don’t start,” Kellie told herself, hesitating as she described one indigent guest. “He showed up here with just about nothing. He also had cancer. He’d had a hard life and was estranged from his family. He had nobody to support him.”
Beacon House provides a lounge solely for cancer patients. They watch TV or the fish tank or hang out with others facing the same issues. They took the newcomer under their wing.
After the others completed their treatments and were leaving, they gave Kellie a bag for the impoverished man with cancer. When he came back from that day’s treatment, Kellie handed him the bag. He opened it and began to cry. It was a book the other guests had found inspiring. “I found it in one of the bookstores,” the man said, “but I couldn’t buy it.” The others had pitched in to get it for him.
“It’s amazing to me, the people who stay here,” Kellie says. “These are just folks from all across the U.P. They’re just us, but they’re so full of grace, and they’re so willing to help each other.”
Beacon House has only three full-time staff – Mary, Kellie and a housekeeper – and five part-time staff. But over the years, more than 300 volunteers have helped to clean, plant gardens, register guests or just be there to talk.
Special rules keep costs down. Food is permitted only in the kitchen, reducing cleaning. Guests get refrigerator and cupboard space. Bagels and coffee are donated. Guests are asked to bring towels and washcloths, but bedding is provided. Coin-operated washers and dryers are onsite.
Only the lounges have TVs. No smoking or alcohol is allowed.
Guests are given an envelope at registration and are asked to pay what they can. No amount is suggested. Some leave $100, others leave as little as $1.38.
Sometimes guests contribute after they’re leave. One older couple, who stayed for six months, continues to send monthly checks. Hospital staff, physicians and medical associations regularly donate.
Last year, The Beacon House got a funding boost with proceeds from the U.P. Celebrity Golf Classic. Iron Mountain native Steve Mariucci, a former coach with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers and now a commentator with the NFL Network, helped to organize and recruit players. There will be a classic this year, June 27 and 28.
Word of mouth is how guests usually find the Beacon House, and local physicians frequently refer long-distance patients there.
“I met a really sweet lady, she’s 85 and from the Copper Country,” says Kellie of one referral. “She was on Social Security and had heart surgery. She was the dearest, sweetest thing in the world.” She was afraid of how to cope in Marquette and how to pay for the stay. Kellie says, “Her doctor reassured her, ‘You can stay at Beacon House. They’ll be watching out for you and you’ll be safe.’”
Good to Know
Beacon House, 1301 N. Third St., Marquette, MI 49855, www.upbeaconhouse.org, 906-225-7100 or 800-562-9753