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The Block’s Rice Hospice Journey

Published in Hospice Services, Patient Story Author: CentraCare

“He was strong in everything he did”

If there was one word to describe Ken Block, it would likely be…strong. For those who knew Ken, all would agree that he was strong in everything he did. He was a strong worker, a strong competitor, a strong friend, and a strong negotiator (especially when it came to buying new vehicles). But, more than anything, Ken was a strong family man, and it was his unwavering love for his family that truly defined Ken Block’s amazing strength.

Ken was born in Madison, Minnesota on September 29, 1934. He had one older sister, Marlys, and it was during her wedding in 1955 that Ken would eventually meet the love of his life – Eleanor. She was five years younger and from a town 50 miles away, so once a week, for two years, Ken made the one-hour drive from Bellingham to Clarkfield to take Eleanor on a weekly date. More often than not, they found themselves taking part in their favorite pastime – dancing.

In 1957, Ken joined the Army and served the majority of his time in Germany. He was gone for three years, and during that time, Ken and Eleanor wrote letters to each other every single day.

Soon after returning home, Ken and Eleanor were married on June 6, 1959. They began their life together, and moved onto the Block family farm to help Ken’s parents run their dairy operation.

In 1962, Ken and Eleanor welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Brian. Before long, five more would follow – Barbara, Larry, Brenda, Kari, and Sharie. Ken adored his children and passed along his love of farming and his strong work ethic to each of them. But, whether the kids were walking beans, picking rocks, or baling hay, they always knew that when their chores were over, Dad would make time for fishing, playing games, or watching TV.

Ken was very proud of his family’s agricultural roots, as well as their ties to the Bellingham community. After one hundred years of operation and three generations of family ownership, the Block family farm was officially designated a Century Farm by the Minnesota Farm Bureau in 1989.

In November of 2016, Ken was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good, and he was faced with several months of chemotherapy and radiation. Even then, his chances of recovery were poor. After discussing his options, Ken made the courageous decision to forego treatment and spend his remaining days at the farm, surrounded by his family and the land that he loved.

Ken began in-home hospice care with Rice Hospice on February 1, 2017. Lois Banken, Hospice R.N., and Peggy Johnson, a Licensed Social Worker, worked with Ken and his family to develop a plan of care that met his unique needs. In addition to regular home visits by Rice Hospice nursing staff, Ken, Eleanor, and their family also enjoyed visits by Hospice Aide, Jennifer Miska; Hospice Volunteer, Marlys Pillatzke; and Music Coordinator, Donna Jo Kopitzke. In recognition of his military service, Ken also took part in a special pinning ceremony through Rice Hospice’s “We Honor Veterans” program.

On March 4th, Ken’s family arranged a special party for him… a polka party… to celebrate his love of polka dancing. About 200 people showed up for the event, and Ken was able to show off his moves with his favorite dance partner, Eleanor. It was a special day for everyone, with lots of love, laughter, and memories to last a lifetime. Ken passed away on April 25, 2017 at the age of 82. He died at home, on the land that his grandfather had homesteaded 128 years earlier, surrounded by his wife and family…exactly how he wanted it.

On the day of his funeral, hundreds of people packed St. John’s Lutheran Church in Madison. The pastor told Eleanor it was one of the biggest funerals they’d ever had in their church. As a special request, Eleanor asked if the funeral procession could drive through their family farm on the way to the cemetery. The funeral director was happy to oblige, so Ken’s family cleaned up all the farm equipment and had it on display outside the barn for everyone to see. Another heartwarming surprise awaited the procession just one mile up the road. Longtime friends and neighbors, DeRon and Sylvia Brehmer, had parked their pickup at the end of the driveway with a big sign that read, “MISS YOU KEN.”

Clearly, Ken was loved and respected by all who knew him. Throughout his life, he possessed a quiet strength. Now, through the love of his family, he leaves a strong legacy to be admired by all.