Chance Encounter Leads Dunn Energy to Sponsor First Caregivers Conference in Dunn County


I met Stan and Mary Hensley when they came into the cooperative to buy a water heater. They said it wasn’t heating quite like it used to. Had they walked into any other for-profit business, they would have left with a water heater in the back of the truck and that would’ve been the end of the story. But that didn’t happen here and it’s only the beginning of the story.

Stan and Mary have been members of Dunn Energy for the better part of 20 years. They bought their first water heater from us when they built their house. They knew that in coming to the cooperative they would get a high-quality, energy-efficient Marathon water heater.

However, after asking a couple of questions, I told them I didn’t want to sell them a water heater. Not just yet anyway. I asked if we could schedule an appointment with our energy specialist to make sure it wasn’t just an element or a thermostat before we looked at replacing the whole unit. While we waited for confirmation that this was a good first step, Stan mentioned that the next morning might not work because he had a Zoom call. You see, Stan volunteers with the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Dunn County and they were planning the first-ever Caregivers Conference in Dunn County.

I learned that Stan has volunteered with the organization for over 16 years and was the driving factor in bringing this conference to Dunn County. In his volunteerism, Stan supports rural families who have family members navigating Alzheimer’s disease. This is a topic near and dear to his heart. Stan lost both of his parents and the family farm, to the disease so he knows the heartbreak and hardships these families are experiencing.

“I tell them, you can tell me anything. I understand what you’re going through,” said Stan during our conversation. “Rural America is very different than urban America when it comes to accepting help and using the resources available to them. I welcome them, support them, and beg them to use what’s there. That’s the hardest part. Getting them to use the resources ADRC has available.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources Rural Task Force, more than half of the 65 million Americans living in rural areas are over the age of 50. Elders in rural areas (about a quarter of all elders) are more likely to reside alone, near or at the poverty level, and suffer from a chronic condition or physical disability. They require an average of 46 miles of travel to get to the nearest health professional.

These are the people who need the most help and are most likely to have a relative as their primary caregiver. In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 33% of stressed caregivers with a severe chronic disease died within four years of giving care. Older adults (aged 66–96) caring for a spouse have a 63% higher risk of death than non-caregivers of the same age.

Helping these caregivers is Stan’s passion. “It’s always on my mind,” said Stan. People reach out to Stan, looking for guidance everywhere. “It’s a full-time job, but I wouldn’t change it,” he added.

It was his dedication to rural America and his volunteerism that brought this conference to his attention. “I saw this conference grow in St. Croix County and wanted to bring it here. Adoray (the hospice company behind the conference) always said that if we knew of someplace else that would benefit from this, to let them know. So, I asked, and they said yes!” said Stan.

This leads me to ask Stan how we (Dunn Energy) could be involved. Rural Dunn County is where our members are, and we are committed to the communities we serve. Not only that, but you can’t help but catch Stan’s enthusiasm and passion for the topic, and, to be honest, this was one of the best sales I’ve had the opportunity to not make.

So, instead of selling Stan and Mary a water heater (that they didn’t end up needing), we decided to sponsor a conference that gives resources and tools to people caring for loved ones. If this is you, please consider attending this conference in Menomonie on October 23. Registration is free but limited to 100 people. A light breakfast and lunch are included. For more information call 715-629-1888.