Hartwig Vatheuer

Hartwig Vatheuer

When it comes to improving health care for his community, Hartwig Vatheuer puts his energy where his heart is. But then, he always has.

Now 77 and with a long-established reputation for civic leadership, Vatheuer has served eight years as a member of the board of The Foundation at KVH, an organization that has given $1.5 million to Kittitas Valley Healthcare over the course of its 30-year history. Add to that his role as a member of the Hospital District 2 Board of Commissioners where he’s spent 15 years helping guide healthcare in the Upper County.

Both positions reflect his passion for making things better where and when he can. Consider it a philosophy forged of family tradition and shaped by early challenge.

Born in Germany in 1939 just days before the start of World War II, he was 6 when, as the war was ending, his desperate mother packed up her six children and fled several hundred miles west from their home in Pomerania (then a province of Germany, now part of Poland) in advance of Russian occupation forces. The family found refuge in a forester’s house but Russian troops soon overtook them.

Seven-plus decades later, memories of that time are still vivid for Valtheuer.

His family was among millions of Germans caught in a chapter of post-war history few in America understand. It was a time of hardship, hunger and constant fear. Food supplies were limited. “The Russians took everything,” Vatheuer says, recalling Russian soldiers with stolen wristwatches lining their forearms. When a Russian soldier demanded his mother’s wedding ring and she had trouble twisting it off, her children feared rumors they’d heard of Russians cutting off fingers to get rings might be true. Instead, she got the ring off and handed it to the soldier who examined it, tossed it to the ground and stomped on it.

Resourcefulness was born of necessity. His sisters knitted, unraveling old sweaters for yarn, then using old bicycle spokes for needles. Despite the hardships, the family celebrated Christmas, exchanging gifts they’d made themselves.

His father, who had been working as an agricultural administrator in the Ukraine during the war, wrote to Vatheuer’s mother, advising her to try to get to the British-occupied sector. Determined, she followed his advice though it took multiple attempts – and in the end required forging one word of his letter – to get the family out of the Russian sector.

In the British zone, the family was among a thousand people “re-settled” to a town of the same population. “We had a room in a castle,” Vatheuer says. “It was so cold there were two inches of ice on the window.”

In 1947, the family reunited. “Dad came,” Vatheuer recalls. “He’d been in a POW camp. He was all skin and bones.”

Vatheuer’s parents were intent on leaving Germany and, in 1953, the family came to the United States sponsored by a family in Idaho through the World Lutheran Federation. “To come you had to be in excellent health and able to work,” Vatheuer says, recalling how a sister with health issues had to remain behind.

The family eventually ended up in Wapato where they ran a truck farm and Vatheuer graduated from high school. Intent on attending college, he delayed that dream to help his family, went on to serve three years in the U.S. Army, then enrolled at Portland State University.

It was in a German class there that he met a pretty coed named Mary. She was shy. So was he – but not so shy that he didn’t walk her to her bus stop and ask to see her again.

Flash forward a few years. After a year at Portland State, Vatheuer transferred to Oregon State University where he earned a degree in forest management and went on to a 32 year career.

Married in 1969, he and Mary bought eight acres in the Cle Elum area in 1984 and built a home where their two sons grew up and where he and Mary still live. A doer by nature, Vatheuer soon became involved in the community.

South Cle Elum Way, the road that connects Cle Elum to South Cle Elum, doesn’t bear his name but maybe it should. The 70 or so Norwegian maples that line the sides of that roadway – green in spring and summer, an eruption of brilliant yellow each fall – are a Kiwanis Club project that testify in part to his trademark role: a steady, determined man, sleeves rolled up figuratively and literally, leading by example.

Armed with a grant from the Plum Creek Foundation that he helped obtain, the club planted half the trees one year, the rest a decade or so later. “I hounded them so much they made me a member of their board,” says Vatheuer who spent five or six years on the board. He figures he helped procure $140,000 for various projects in the county over the years.

At one point, when Cle Elum’s old swimming pool needed cleaning and painting, it was Vatheuer and his family who did it. And when the chamber of commerce decided to transform an old phone company building downtown into public restrooms, Vatheuer helped coordinate the project, even enlisting Mary and his boys to help hand dig the sewer line.

He’s also been involved since inception with the Kiwanis Club’s annual Christmas tree sale, a project he estimates has raised $60,000 plus over 24 years. Vatheuer has cut many of those trees. His contributions have not gone unnoticed. In 2006, he received Puget Sound Energy’s Pioneer Award, presented annually to an individual in Kittitas County who has demonstrated leadership and vision to benefit the community. Two years later, a brass plaque honoring him was placed at Flag Pole Park.

Among his admirers: Michelle Wurl, executive director of The Foundation at KVH. “He embodies the true spirit of giving back to the community,” she says. “His tireless devotion to our county and his willingness to help wherever needed is an example we all should follow.”

But Vatheuer shies away from the term “giving back.” “To me, I think what I do means being part of the community. You should be doing not just talking about it,” he says.

Once, he recalls, one of his sons asked why he does what he does. “I never really thought about it,” he says. “Basically I probably would have to say that I grew up in a Christian environment and I had many good examples in my life – especially my mother. You don’t just live for yourself but also for others.”

He’s proud of his roles on the Hospital District 2 board and as a member of the board of the Foundation at KVH. “The hospital doesn’t take in much in taxes but is financially stable,” he says. “It’s a public entity that stands on its own two feet. The foundation is a well-run operation. Without it the hospital might have to raise taxes.”

As for KVH Hospital, “I’ve been a patient several times,” he says. “It always seems efficient and the people are friendly. But the quality healthcare is the most important thing. The hospital wins all these awards. That must mean something.”

Connie Dunnington

Connie Dunnington

When her husband Bob died in a motorcycle accident sixteen years ago, Connie Dunnington understood that life as she knew it had changed.

The couple, married 13 years, were parents of two daughters, then 12 and 10.

Connie knew she needed to redefine her family’s life, creating some new traditions while preserving others. So she resumed an old love – horseback riding, sold the building that had housed Bob’s orthodontic practice and built an arena, and introduced her children to the Stirrups and Irons 4-H group, the same club she’d belonged to as a child. She went on to become the club leader, a position she still holds.

She also embraced one of Bob’s traditions – and made it her own. A dedicated community volunteer, he’d signed on early as a member of the board of The Foundation at KVH, a non-profit that works to improve community health care.

Two years after Bob’s death, Connie got a call. Bob’s seat on the board was still vacant, the caller said. Would she be interested in filling it? The answer was yes.

It was a way of continuing his legacy and adding to her own. The board was trying to raise $1 million for an endowment fund but some were questioning whether the effort should continue. She knew Bob had been determined to reach the goal.

“Being on the board maintained some continuation, some kind of a sense of tradition,” she says, noting that she and Bob both served terms as president. And after all, she was no stranger to the nuts and bolts of board service. She’d been there helping Bob from the beginning.

“Back in the early days there was no hired director. The board basically worked out of the trunks of their cars,” says Connie, who recalls putting together the organization’s annual mailing on her kitchen table while her children napped.

Eventually the hospital helped the foundation hire a director. “At that point everything changed,” she says. “Everything got easier. We reached the goal. We came up with a plan for how to use the income off the million dollars.”

Since 2005, The Foundation has donated over $1.5 million to KVH, including income from the endowment along with other fundraising, to support a variety of projects. Currently, the foundation is running a campaign to help fund the purchase of the first digital mammography machine at KVH.

Foundation director Michele Wurl calls Connie an enthusiastic volunteer who helps with “virtually every foundation activity.” That includes helping organize the annual Magical Evening, the foundation’s primary fundraising activity as well as leading the annual Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign during the rodeo. Last year, proceeds funded a free mammogram day.

“We sell beads, t-shirt, bandannas, anything that isn’t tied down. One year we sold a pink bucket because someone wanted it,” Connie says, laughing.

Her laughter – warm and engaging  – is also energizing. That’s classic Connie, Wurl says. “She’s always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. She’s smart, funny and truly dedicated to improving health care in this community.”

That the foundation has been as effective as it has been is no accident, says Connie who lauds the relationship between the foundation and KVH administration. “You have to have a good relationship and work together,” she says. “In the past, it wasn’t always that close.”

What makes her proudest she says is “just to hear the positive attitudes of people working here. Every time this hospital gets named in the Top 100 you know people are doing things right.”

How long will she remain on the board? Connie, now 60, flashes a smile. “It’s the same thing I say about 4-H,” she says. “I will do it until I don’t enjoy it – and right now, I enjoy it.”

Jerry Grebb

Jerry Grebb

From pizza and steak to homemade brownies, Jerry Grebb has an appetite for the good things in life.

But when eating led to unexplained abdominal pain, Grebb got a taste of something different – Kittitas Valley Healthcare.

A Washington State University grad who grew up in Quincy, Grebb, a CPA, fell in love with Ellensburg when he moved here 40 years ago. When his now 38-year-old daughter was born, Grebb also fell in love with KVH Hospital. This past September reminded him why.

For months, Grebb had experienced periodic pain after eating. The week before Labor Day he saw an internal medicine specialist who, suspecting gallstones, scheduled an ultrasound for the following Tuesday. But the Sunday before Labor Day, Grebb landed in the emergency room at KVH Hospital where a CT scan revealed a hiatal hernia.

The bottom of Grebb’s stomach, including the duodenum and beginning of his small intestines, had worked its way into the opening where the esophagus passes through the diaphragm to the stomach. “The opening was stretched or torn,” he says. “Two thirds of my stomach was up in the hernia above my diaphragm.” It was pressing on his heart and lungs and keeping him from normal eating.

Dr. Timothy O’Brien of KVH General Surgery arrived within minutes, ordered Grebb’s stomach evacuated and told Grebb he’d need surgery. But first Grebb would be hospitalized for treatment of a pancreatic inflammation. “I liked Dr. O’Brien’s style,” Grebb says. “He was very matter-of-fact. He’s a very bright man and so plain spoken. He doesn’t try to dazzle you.”

Two days later when Grebb had the previously scheduled ultrasound O’Brien was on hand. So was Dr. Ken Harris, a trusted friend of Grebb’s who runs a private practice out of the KVH General Surgery clinic. So was the newest partner in the KVH General Surgery clinic Dr. Tom Penoyar who is trained in laparoscopic surgery for hiatal hernias, a cutting edge procedure that is less invasive than conventional surgery and results in shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery. “With laparoscopic, it’s one day in the hospital. With conventional, it’s five,” Grebb says.

On Thursday, with Harris assisting, Penoyar operated on Grebb. Working through five small abdominal incisions, Penoyar pulled Grebb’s stomach down from his chest and into proper position and narrowed the hernia by sewing its two edges together. He then wrapped the upper part of Grebb’s stomach around and behind Grebb’s esophagus, sewing the stomach to itself to create a “collar” that will keep it from sliding up into Grebb’s chest.

Called the Nissen technique, Penoyar performed the procedure an estimated 30 times while training in the Boston area. That may not sound like a lot, he says, but the nationwide average during training is six.

On Friday, Grebb went home. On Saturday, he walked downtown. On Monday, he went to work. Not long after, he was eating pizza without problems and calling his experience a perfect collaboration between the old and new guard at KVH.

“Dr. Penoyar has done more hiatal surgeries than Dr. Harris because of where he trained, at a big hospital in Massachusetts,” Grebb says. “It was wonderful that he was able to perform the procedure here. And I was so impressed by the sageness of Dr. O’Brien and Dr. Harris.

“That’s what the punch line is here,” Grebb says. “We’ve got both – the sage older team and the new surgeon trained with the latest technology. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”

Jim & Pam Daly

Jim & Pam Daly

Jim and Pam Daly know a good investment when they see one.

Case in point: Kittitas Valley Healthcare (KVH), where they’ve been investing time, talent and money for years.

Blame selfishness. They do.

Unabashed Cougar fans, the Dalys’ road to Ellensburg began at WSU. She was 19 and majoring in elementary education when they met; he, 20, and a marketing major. They married 45 years ago this coming September, just before the start of their senior year. Jim landed a banking job in Enterprise, OR, after graduation, then moved on to a job with Pacific Bank in Ellensburg in 1975. They considered it just a stop along his career path until an unexpectedly early promotion to bank manager changed their plans.

Over time, they found plenty of reasons to turn to KVH. There was the night their son Curt landed in the hospital Emergency Department with croup, the C-section Pam had when their daughter Megan was born, the nine arthroscopic surgeries, two knee replacements and shoulder surgery that are part of Jim’s medical history. In the early 1980s, Pam began volunteering with KVH. In 1986, she signed on as a regular volunteer with the hospital’s Imaging Department. That same year, then serving as president of the KVH Auxiliary, she was one of eleven founding members of The Foundation at KVH.

Nearly three decades later, the Dalys decline to specify exactly how much they’ve contributed to the foundation. Suffice it to say, they’re major donors. Pam, now auxiliary treasurer, continues to volunteer in Imaging. Jim, who left banking to become an investment counselor and stockbroker, has served 20-plus years as a member of the foundation board, his expertise instrumental in guiding the foundation’s conservative and successful investment approach.

Supporting KVH is a no-brainer, the Dalys say. The seed for their involvement was planted in the soil of pragmatic self-interest.

“We did it for selfish reasons,” Jim insists. “When you have children you know there are going to be times when they’re going to need medical care and you want them to have good medical care. Our philosophy has always been that we wanted a good place for our family to turn to – and we knew as we got older we’d need a good place, too. It’s putting our money where our mouth is.”

Good investments pay good dividends.The Dalys are pleased with the return they’ve seen on both their time and money.

In the past five years alone, the foundation has raised more than $1.1 million through special events, major and estate gifts, an annual donation appeal and investment earning. In recent years that money has helped fund a new entrance to the Emergency Department, a security system for the Family Birthing Center, state-of-the-art orthopedic surgical equipment and renovation of the Medical Surgical Unit. The auxiliary, which operates the hospital gift shop, helps in various ways, from awarding scholarships to students studying medicine to providing teddy bears for the Emergency Department to knitting caps for newborns to providing flat screen TVs for patient rooms after the hospital was remodeled.

“We’ve seen some really great things happen that we’ve been able to be part of,” Pam says. Jim says he’s “proud of the quality of care and the people who give it – and I’m not just talking doctors. The whole staff really cares about you.”

While there are many good causes, Pam prefers to give locally which makes KVH a slam-dunk. “We believe in this hospital and its focus on community,” she says.

Jim nods agreement, smiling broadly. “Giving back,” he says, “is what we do.”

Jim Pappas

Jim Pappas

From minor injuries to the most painful day of his life, retired Central Washington University administrator and professor Jim Pappas has relied on KVH Hospital for quality care and outstanding compassion.

He’s seen both up close and personal. Case in point: what happened when Pappas’s wife Denise fell critically ill.

The love of his life and the heart of her family, Denise was also afraid of doctors – so fearful that for several years she ignored symptoms of potential heart problems, repeatedly refusing pleas from her family to see a doctor.

Flash back to May 19, 2006. Unable to shake persistent shoulder and back pain that eventually spread to her chest and legs, and with her husband begging her to go to the hospital, Denise refused — right up until 11:30 p.m. when Pappas called 911. “I know now,” he says, “that she was dying before my eyes.”

Paramedics put her in the medic unit. Alarmed when he saw them struggling to get a heartbeat, Pappas walked circles in the front yard until the ambulance pulled away, then drove himself to KVH. Relief mingled with fear, he says. “I was so scared. But I thought she would finally get the help she needed.”

At the hospital, Pappas sat beside his unresponsive wife, holding her hand and talking to her as medical staff tried to restart her heart with defibrillation multiple times. The effort failed. “They did everything they could. They were just outstanding but Denise passed away in ER,” he says.

She was 67. They had been married 42 years. Stunned and numb with grief on what he calls “the worst day of my life,” Pappas sat beside her waiting for family to arrive, a nurse and doctor at his side until a pastor came in. “They didn’t leave me alone,” he says.

It’s not the only time Pappas has witnessed a level of care – and caring – that he finds unforgettable.

When a longtime friend dying of cancer was hospitalized, Pappas was a regular visitor – so regular, he says with a smile, that some staff assumed he was a son.  The 97-year-old patient and his 94-year-old wife had been married 73 years. “What I saw was that everybody who came in, the guys as well as the gals, took time to talk to her,” says Pappas who at 77 is a walking testimonial to a hospital he believes in.

There’s good reason. Since arriving in Ellensburg from Chicago in 1980, he’s turned to KVH for care on multiple occasions. There was treatment for diverticulitis, emergency room visits for a fish hook that got stuck in his hand and a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop, treatment for a stomach ulcer and bacterial infection, endoscopies, colonoscopies, MRIs and X-rays, rotator cuff surgery and surgeries on his fingers and both knees.

“Dr. Dan Hiersche (an orthopedic specialist) repaired me so many times,” says Pappas who lauds a host of other providers. Among them: his longtime primary care physician Dr. Don Solberg whom he calls “cerebral and a straightforward professional with good bedside manners.”

Nurses consistently have been “absolutely professional and caring, showing interest in me, explaining what they were doing but most importantly answering my questions,” he adds.

While some people may think they’ll find better care at a bigger hospital, Pappas says, he’s found everything he’s needed in a comforting high quality setting close to home. “This hospital has served me well,” he says. “They identify what the problem is, address it, operate if they need to and you get it fixed. I’ve been very pleased.”