In 1970, one of Peg and Bud Howard’s six children, Steve, was in New York receiving treatment for what was eventually terminal cancer. Peg was living there with him, providing care and support. Bud was in Indiana with the other five children, working to pay mounting medical bills. It was a difficult time for the whole family.
Peg felt isolated, so far from home and family. At that time, social workers addressed little more than insurance coverage and a smattering of discharge planning. Doctors and nurses just did not know how to talk with someone who was faced with the possibility of losing her son. There was no one to support Peg. Three months after Steve lost his battle with cancer, Peg realized how she could fulfill Steve’s last wish. Peg knew that support for caregivers involves support for the entire family. She sparked a revolution in care by speaking to social workers, doctors, case managers, nurses and anyone who would listen. She told them about her experiences and inspired a better way to provide service and care to patients and their families. But she still wanted to do more.
Years later, Peg and Bud learned about plans for a Proton Therapy Treatment Center at IU – one of three in the country – and they wondered, “Where will the people stay?” This began a 7-year fundraising effort in and around the Bloomington area to create a supportive residence for patients and their families near the Proton Treatment Center.
The community of Bloomington experienced a tragedy in 2000 when Marilyn and Eric Behrman’s 19-year-old daughter disappeared. Like Steve, Jill was athletic and gregarious. She never met a stranger and was loved by all who knew her. The Howards were friends with the Behrmans, and to help them cope with their loss and to help keep the search for Jill prominent, Peg and Bud asked the Behrmans if the hospitality house theyenvisioned could carry Jill’s name. The Behrmans agreed.
The Wheeler family, who then owned Meadowood, donated a significant parcel of land for Jill’s House adjoining the Meadowood property. Bloomington got involved and thousands of people donated their time, money, resources, gifts, and talents to make Jill’s House a reality. Since it first opened in 2008, Jill’s House served over 600 cancer patients and their families. One of the enduring legacies of Jill’s House was the many relationships that have been forged there and the special memories that so many people have of their time in Bloomington.
The new Jill’s House continues the tradition of finding a better way to provide comfort, strength, and joy.
While Peg was following her path to make a difference in the world, Nicole and Jan Bays were following their own. Jan is a physical therapist experienced both in caring for people living with dementia and in teaching others how to work with them. Nicole, Jan’s daughter, worked in healthcare too, starting as an Activity Director and rising through the ranks to become a successful health facility administrator.
When the Proton Treatment Center closed in 2014, Jill’s House was no longer needed as a hospitality house. Sadly it sat empty, waiting to be useful again. That day came in 2016 when House Investments, an Indianapolis-based commercial real estate company, purchased the building and repurposed it into a home to provide excellent, thoughtful care for people needing assisted living with memory care. The owners and founding management team (including Nicole and Jan Bays) imagined a better way of supporting people living with dementia: a place where people are truly known; not defined by their disease, but on their life experiences and how they can still contribute. A place where care is based on relationships, and where all who enter will feel strength, comfort, and joy.
In 2017, Jill’s House expanded to include the Jill’s House Intergenerational Preschool. JHIP has expanded rapidly to include children from infants through age 5. One focus of Jill’s House in conjunction with JHIP is to bring generations together to foster tolerance, acceptance, empathy and a lifelong love of learning.