For years, many knew Renee Hecker as that woman in Stone Lake with 12 children. Some knew her as an author and wise woman who had garnered invaluable life insights she loved to share.
Then on March 23, 2020, her husband, Nathan Phillip Hecker, was killed in an accident while working on logging equipment in Barron County, and she became a widow, a woman at the center of a familial tragedy.
Hecker had been through deep struggles before — a house destroyed by lightning and the death of her first child — but losing the love of her life, her world, was another level of pain and heartache. Not only did Hecker have the burden of processing her grief, but she also had to be a steady presence for her children, who also were recovering from the loss of their father.
And she was thrust into a new role — sole breadwinner.
The week of her husband's death, she received an email from a life coaching boot camp, offering three days of intensive training to help launch a new career. Hecker had shared with other women about her experiences and what she was learning about life and being a wife and mother.
She had thought that one day, when her kids were older, she might become a life coach, but with the death of her husband and the need to pay the bills she commenced training.
However, it would be months before she would start her practice because she needed time and space to grieve.
"I really couldn't go out and help other people until I took care of myself first," she said
In December 2020, Hecker began her practice, On True North, as an empowerment life coach. Her goal is to help others who feel powerless to overcome what is holding them back — be it grief, anger or depression — to "help them find their power in life again, to rise above it and move out and really have a life that they love and enjoy again," she said.
Hecker, who calls herself a "Christ follower," said so many people she knows in the Christian community are just enduring but not really enjoying life.
"I see people who are just as stressed-out as the unreligious and just as sad and just as depressed," she said. "I want to help them find a way not just to endure life."
She know what a joyless existence is like. For over a decade, she was in the grip of deep, irrational fear causing bouts of extreme anxiety. From her 30s through her 40s, she felt like she was "muddling" through life. She remembers telling Nathan how she felt life was too hard and arduous, and she questioned her own existence and purpose.
"A lot of what I share is just my own life experience and what it took and what I understand and what brought me out on top through my 30s and 40s and has greatly helped through Nathan's death," she said.
For obvious reasons, Hecker is often asked about her experience with grief.
"I think people think of grief as something you go through, and you get to the other side," she said, "but it's not. You're never the same again, and it becomes an experience that's a part of you, and you take with you and you learn to integrate that experience into your life now. And now you are completely different.
"Especially in a case like this, you know, where it's a spouse that dies, because your dreams are so mingled together. And so when he dies, to some extent, you die because all those dreams have to be undone, and you have to figure your life out again, and you have to come up with a new plan, a new vision."
Four months after her husband's death, when the emotional numbness caused by trauma had dissipated, Hecker journaled extensively and allowed herself to fully feel the pain and allow the tears to pour, but then she decided to make a transition.
"I just had this feeling that what was once healing to you is now going to hurt you if you don't stand up now and let it go," she said, "meaning let it go when that sad thought comes, to not dwell on it and allow it to build, such (thoughts) as 'he won't be here anymore' or 'I won't have this anymore,' and 'I'm alone.'"
She learned to allow herself to feel the pain, even shed a tear, and then let it pass, but the following sad thought she wouldn't dwell on and instead focused on something positive.
"I take that sad thought of what I don't have and think to myself, 'Look, you had 34 years of an amazing relationship. Who gets 34 years?'" she said, "and so I not only don't build the sadness I really do try to turn it around for something good and positive that makes me smile."
Helping people accept and deal with their feelings is big part of Hecker's practice. She said many people are burdened with the belief that they shouldn't feel depressed or angry, but she tells them those feelings are part of being human, and recognizing them is the first step in healing.
"Fifty percent of the war they're having is that they don't feel free to just go ahead and feel depressed or feel angry," she said. "But if you are going to heal it and overcome it, you've got to go through it, so you need to let it come and let's examine it, because so many feelings are just a gauge of what's happening."
She's observed how some of the prescribed anti-depressant medications and alcohol and street drugs tamper down feelings that need to be fully experienced.
"If you dull the emotions, you never heal the root cause of what those emotions are stemming from," she said. "A lot is from childhood trauma or hurts that were caused in childhood."
She added, "One of the clients I've worked with was amazed at his ability to feel because it had been numbed down so much, and working with his doctor to ween him off of his anti-depressants, he was amazed at his ability to feel wonder and excitement about life again. The drugs had dulled his ability to feel those emotions, but restoring that function propelled him forward out of a downward spiral."
Hecker said many of her clients come to her after "life has thrown them for a loop" including death, depression or stress over a financial crisis. Even though a life coach may explore one's past (more of a therapist role), they focus more on the present and actions to take to overcome challenges.
Hecker has helped clients deal with stress. She's been a mediator for couples, and helped parents who are struggling to raise a difficult child, and even has given advice on home births.
"Sometimes they just want to pick my brain and see what I've done and what has helped me," she said.
One of her basic tools is a gratitude journal.
"I don't think people realize the profound effect that habit has," she said. "It's one of those simple things, but if you will continue it you'll be amazed at the change in your life because energy goes where attention flows. So if you are putting your attention on things you are grateful for, you are putting your energy there more. If your attention is on the negative, your energy is going to go there and life will show you more things to be negative about."
The advantages of meeting with a life coach compared to just reading self-help books and applying what is read, she said, are that interactions with a person are targeted and the process works faster.
"I think with a life coach, you're able to get to the point quicker because you have them personally investing in you and looking at your situation," she said. "Whereas a book is written for millions and you have to figure out how to take those ideas and apply them to yourself."
And, she said, there are advantages of working with a life coach versus seeking help from friends.
"When it's deep issues, you don't always want to have your friends," she said. "You want somebody who's removed and objective, and that's because everything is confidential. It's between that person and me. If they cannot feel safe, they're not going to open up. I try to really make an atmosphere where they feel completely safe and unjudged and I just listen."
Hecker started her practice while many were meeting over Zoom, so she offers online Zoom sessions or meetings via telephone or in-person. The first meeting is a "complimentary clarity session" for questions and answers to determine if life coaching with her is the right choice. Then there's flexibility on how to proceed, by scheduling a month of meetings or just one week at a time.
Her goal in working with her clients is to help them discover their inner strength in order to empower them to live a peaceful and joy-filled life.
"It's a shame to continue to go through life in an enduring mode, putting up with not looking forward to the next day, dreading Monday morning," she said. "Every day offers something extremely special. And I would love to awaken in people that zest for living so that they can love and be excited about the life they are living."
Hecker's Instagram site, @wingitmom, offers advice for mothers. It has 60,000 followers.
"I am grateful and impressed by the kindness and thoughtfulness of the hospice team that worked on my wife's case and has continued with me since her passing. A heartfelt thank you to all of your team and support." —A family member
November is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month, and in the Northland this type of care is provided by Regional Hospice Services, a non-profit hospice program that began delivering compassionate care to patients and families dealing with terminal diagnoses in 1992.
Founded with a vision from Lowell Miller, who was then CEO of Memorial Medical Center in Ashland, it began by outreach to area hospitals and was soon a formal partnership among Memorial Medical Center in Ashland, Hayward Area Memorial Hospital and Grand View Hospital in Ironwood, Michigan.
Miller understood the challenges of starting a rural hospice program and knew that collaboration between hospitals and communities was critical to make it happen. Soon the service area expanded with the additional partnership of Spooner Health in 1998 and Burnett Medical Center in Grantsburg in 1999.
Today Regional Hospice Services provides advanced care planning, hospice care, palliative care, pain and symptom management and skilled nursing services to the Ironwood, Hayward, Spooner/Grantsburg and Ashland areas, spanning 13 counties: Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Iron, Sawyer, Washburn, Burnett, Gogebic, Vilas, Ontonagon, Polk, Barron and Rusk. On average, Regional Hospice cares for approximately 50 patients a day.
Regional Hospice has long arms and a big heart.
The Regional Hospice care team focuses on quality of life for patients, with the patient and family at the center of all decision making. The patient's hospice care team includes an RN case manager, an on-call RN, a home health aide, social worker, spiritual care coordinator and numerous volunteers.
Patients and caregivers also may benefit from massage therapy, respite care, bereavement and grief support. Patients may be referred for hospice care or palliative care by their primary physician, family members, friends, clergy or other health care professionals.
The hospice nurse is on-call for patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Importantly, services are provided in the setting of a patient's home — be that a private residence, assisted living facility or skilled-nursing home — no matter how remote the home may be.
"Anyone who thinks they may be ready for hospice should call to talk with our RN, who can do a home visit to review what the program offers and answer questions so families can be better informed.," said RN and Clinical Director Pam Frost. " We hear 'I wish I had known about hospice earlier' a lot at Regional Hospice."
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with a serious illness. It focuses on providing patients with relief of symptoms, pain and stress management and improvement of quality of life for the patient and family. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided while receiving curative treatment.
There are many opportunities for volunteers, including veteran volunteers, who make a special connection with veteran patients and their families. Volunteers offer time with patients, sitting with them, listening to them, sharing stories and offering other caregivers a break from the ongoing challenges of caring for a loved one.
Volunteers also help to organize special events, attend health fairs and plan fundraisers. They may also assist with office work or offer their professional skills to support the organization in other ways.
Regional Hospice provides all volunteers with a thorough training program, educating them in ways to be confident in helping patients and families and ensuring yearly training classes. Each site has a volunteer coordinator available for support, encouragement and guidance.
Community grief support
Confidential grief support groups exist across the service area and are dedicated to offering support to people who are struggling with the loss of a loved one. The groups are open to anyone in the community who has experienced loss. There is no registration required and no fee. They meet in Ashland, Hayward, Ironwood and the Spooner/Grantsburg area.
Regional Hospice Executive Director Lynda Anderson said, "As the director of the program, I see the gratitude of our patients and families every day. They are thankful for hospice workers' dedication and compassion, the expert care they receive, and the peace of mind they get from these critical supports."
Hospice services are covered under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Medicaid and many private insurance companies. Palliative care services are offered at little or no cost to the patient. Regional Hospice provides service based upon need, regardless of one's ability to pay.
For more information, call (715) 685-5151 or visit regionalhospice.org.
Having made it to the quarterfinals of the national America's Main Street contest on Nov. 15, Hayward now is urging online voters to help its Main Street make it to the final 10 by continuing to vote until Dec. 12. Voters can continue to vote up to 25 times per day in this popularity contest.
One way the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce, which entered Hayward in the national contest, is making the online voting even easier is by posting posters around the area with a QR code that people with smartphones can scan and in a few seconds can vote on the website for Main Street Hayward.
Chris Ruckdaschel, executive director of the chamber, said the idea to use a QR code came from board member Megan DeTray, who manages the Dairy Queen.
"She said, 'If you guys print out a poster with a QR code I can put the poster by the drive up menu and as people are waiting on their orders they can vote,'" Ruckdaschel said. "We thought that is just a brilliant idea and then we thought we could do that with every business."
Essentially everywhere where that QR code is visible, including the Sawyer County Record newspaper, there's an easy link to the America's Main Street voting page.
The QR code is not a new technology. When first introduced around the 2010s, there was a lot of excitement about them, but then the enthusiasm seemed to wane, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity appears to have grown, especially since newer smartphones make their use even easier.
"It used to be you had to have a special app to scan the QR code, but now most phones allow you to point the camera at the code and an app appears to open it," Ruckdaschel said. "They are so easy to use."
Ruckdaschel said Brianna McKenzie, the assistant director for the chamber, has found a number of uses for QR codes for the chamber. For the Nov. 4 Hayward Chamber of Commerce annual meeting program, McKenzie thought of using QR codes for bios of those nominated for business awards.
"We didn't have space on our program for the bios, so Brianna came up with the idea of using the QR codes to link to the web page and everybody has a phone with them, so they can literally pull it up and read it," he said.
Ruckdaschel said he's noticed that many restaurants during the pandemic used a QR code because menus were changing so much. It seems the uses for QR codes are only limited to one's imagination.
From the web page takeflyte.com there's an article titled "50 creative ways to use QR codes in business." Some of the suggestions include postings adjacent to museum art to learn more, on a kiosk to interact with the information, on a bottle of wine to learn more about its background or on a movie poster to be taken to a page to watch a video trailer.
"Who knows, but our using the QR codes for the America's Main Street contest could open up a wave of ideas for using them," Ruckdaschel said.
A number of free online sites are available to covert a URL page or other information into a QR code. Google "free QR codes" to find sites.
More about the America's Main Streets contest, including a list of nominees, is available at mainstreetcontest.com.
To Vote for Main Street Hayward to make the top 10 by Dec. 12 in the national competition, go to mainstreetcontest.com/profile/121.
Because this is a popularity contest, the organizers allow voters to cast up to 25 votes a day from the same IP address.
From the top 10, the Road to Recovery winner will be chosen and announced Dec. 20.
Many feel this might be Hayward's year to win the contest because the downtown has been a semifinalist five times, has made the quarterfinals four times and the final 10 once.
If Hayward wins, there's a prize of $25,000 and other items, but the contest is really about bragging rights and garnering national attention.
The Sawyer County Record has created two videos promoting the contest. The latest video is called "Vote for Main Street Hayward ... For a Mural of Reasons." Scan the QR code above and watch it or go to www.hawyardwi.com.
A community survey held this fall in the Hayward School District showed that 41% of all residents would vote "definitely yes" and 30% would probably vote yes for a proposed referendum for the district to borrow $49.7 million to pay for recommended upgrades and renovation of four school buildings.
Of the survey respondents, 13% said they are "undecided," 10% said they would vote "definitely no" and 6% said they would probably vote no.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, the School Board voted to proceed with planning for a potential referendum on April 5, which would include some or all of the Envisioning Task Force recommendations.
The survey found that of those who are not parents and not school staff members, 28% would vote "'definitely yes" to a facilities referendum and 28% would vote "probably yes." Fifteen percent are undecided, 18% would vote "definitely no" and 11% probably would vote no.
The school board will consider the options and a first draft of a facilities referendum resolution Dec. 20 and will vote on the final ballot resolution Jan. 17.
The survey also asked residents if they would support a community education center, with or without a swimming pool. The estimated cost would be $8.6 million without a pool and $24.9 million with a pool.
A district citizen envisioning task force met Nov. 15 prior to the school board meeting to hear a presentation by facilities consultant Kraus-Anderson on its comprehensive facility assessment conducted earlier this year and the results of this fall's School Perceptions survey of district residents.
Kraus-Anderson staff member John Huenink said that "If a referendum were held today for your recommended plan (upgrades at four buildings), it would likely be supported by voters."
He added that "There is some support for the Community Education Center concept, but we would recommend further defining the project in a future phase.
"Outdoor athletic facility (upgrades) have the least support of the three major projects tested," Huenink added.
Huenink said parents and school-age children make up 25% of the community; of those, 42% support a community education center with a swimming pool, while 46% do not support it.
The perceptions survey showed "really good community support for the Hayward Community Schools and overall satisfaction" with the schools, Huenink said.
If the proposed referendum here were to succeed, construction would begin in the spring of 2023, Huenink indicated.
"We're a growing community and if we are to continue to grow, we need to make this investment and attract people with good facilities," said task force member Jim Miller.
The bulk of the building upgrades, estimated to cost up to $31 million, would take place at the high school.
The recommendations are: Build a new entrance to improve safety and security and better control visitor access; remodel and repurpose the career and technical education (shop) area, to expand course offerings aligned with Northwood Technical College standards, this area could be used by the community as well; renovate the family and consumer economics and STEM classrooms and labs; upgrade the library media center to create more breakout learning areas; remodel the cafeteria into a commons area; expand the gym and fitness-aerobic exercise areas including a walking track for both student and community use; repair external brickwork to prevent water from entering the building; update major building systems, floors, doors and lighting as needed.
Also proposed are:
Repurpose the current gym into a cafeteria, allowing for project-based learning, collaborative work areas and other academic programming; add a dedicated gym, update common areas and hallways, bring restrooms up to code, update technology infrastructure including wireless internet, replace exterior doors to improve security.
The estimated cost is up to $7.9 million.
Relocate and repurpose district offices into flexible classrooms and support areas for students with special needs; remodel the cafeteria to provice areas for academic programming and collaborative student work areas; update remaining major building systems such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing in the cafeteria and library; fix basement flooding issues.
The estimated cost is up to $4.8 million.
Remodel the science-technology-engineering-math and family and consumer economics classrooms and labs to improve and expand course offerings; expand the chorus and band aeras to meet growing student interest; remove the steps in the cafeteria, which pose both safety and maintenance issues; and expand the serving area; relocate the technology infrastructure to allow space for additional classrooms; remodel the student and staff work area to allow for better teacher collaboration.
A group of intermediate school students and music teacher Shannon Sheehan gave a demonstration to the board of a computer-aided device called "Makey Makey," which was purchased with a grant of $1,199 from the Hayward Foundation for Educational Enrichment (HFEE). The computer devices allow them to become music conductors.
Supt. Olson reported that at its Nov. 15 meeting the board:
• Approved an Academic and Career Planning professional development plan and district self-assessment guide and action plan.
• Hired Eric North as assistant high school Nordic ski coach.
• Accepted the resignation of Madelyn Krivinchuk as early childhood special education aide.
• Approved an increase in meal prices for adults as of Dec. 1: From $3.90 for lunch to $4.65; and from $2.35 to $2.56 for breakfast.
• Designated Linda Plante as the board's delegate to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) annual convention Jan. 19-21.
The board accepted several recent donations to the district:
• $200 from Powell's on Round Lake for the HHS cheerleading team.
• Twelve cases of sweatshirts from the Hayward Lions Club to the middle school students.
• $1,500 from Hayward Wesleyan Church, which stated that "It is our wish that these dollars be used as you see fit to bring about togetherness and unity in our schools."
• $200 from Kay Hawksford of Hawksford Dental to the HHS Drama Club.
• Several new winter coats and snow bibs from First Lutheran Church to the primary school.
• Coats and hat from Doris Skille to the primary and intermediate schools.
• $300 worth of sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats and gloves from the Spider Lake Fellowship to the primary school.
• A donation of $565.60 to the school district from the Northern Lakes Co-op Cenex from proceeds of their "Hurricane Pride" fuel pumps.