Couple share faith, volunteer work

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Married eight years ago this month, Mary Jane and Terry Cole of Elkader are inseparable in all things, including their volunteer work at St. Croix Hospice.

By Pam Reinig, Times-Register

Anyone who knows Mary Jane Cole won’t be the least surprised to learn she hasn’t let a pandemic stop her from doing good deeds. 

The Elkader woman and her husband, Terry, are dedicated hospice volunteers. But due to restrictions set in place to protect vulnerable populations, the Coles have been unable to make hospice visits for several weeks. Mary Jane has spent the time making masks and gowns, instead.

“We miss our hospice patient and can hardly wait for the day we can see him again,” she said in a recent email. “These are difficult days for families not to be able to go see their loved ones in nursing homes. It’s so hard on the residents, too. We pray every day for all caretakers, those who are sick with COVID-19 and for the end of the epidemic.”

An unshakeable faith is something the couple now shares, but it hasn’t always been that way for Terry. In fact, he freely admits he was not a big believer before he met Mary Jane in 2011. To understand how Terry came to have such a deep faith, it helps to know how he and Mary Jane ended up together.

Both Terry and Mary Jane grew up in Clayton County. Mary Jane was actually born in Prairie du Chien, Wis. Her father died when she was 9 and her mother moved the family to Garnavillo to be near Mary Jane’s grandparents. When Mary Jane’s mother remarried, the clan moved to a farm near Volga. The youngsters in the large blended family rode the same bus Terry also took to school. And though her stepbrothers were friends of his, Mary Jane was not.

Following her high school graduation, Mary Jane attended college for two years in Wisconsin. She and her first husband, Tom, moved to the Strawberry Point area following their marriage. They farmed and raised five children. When they gave up farming, Mary Jane worked at a series of unsatisfying jobs before eventually returning to college and earning her degree.

More fulfilling jobs followed her college graduation, but Mary Jane ultimately left the workforce after she was offered a scholarship from Loras College. She completed the coursework for a pastoral associate in 2009, a year after Tom suffered a fatal heart attack.

“I moved to Bellevue for a job that involved teaching religion classes, visiting sick parishioners and planning retreats, and I loved it. But it proved to be too far from home,” said Mary Jane. “I was missing out on so many family activities that I decided to move back.”

While all of this was happening in Mary Jane’s life, Terry was equally busy with military service, college and career. After graduating high school, he spent three years in the Army.

“I was out of the service and visiting home when a buddy asked me to go with him on a college visit to South Dakota,” Terry said. “I liked the school so much that I decided to enroll.”

After earning his undergraduate degree, Terry went to work at the former Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids. He made frequent trips to Clayton County to care for his mom, dad and an uncle. On one such trip, he passed a farm he said he’d driven by “thousands of times” over the years. Now the land was for sale and he was in a position to buy it.

“After I bought it in 2002, I was walking the property and I came to a certain spot with a great view and thought it was the perfect place for a house,” Terry said. 

He built a house on that secluded, scenic spot in 2007, making it available to family when they visited northeast Iowa. Following his retirement in 2011, he moved into the house. A few months later, he met Mary Jane, and several months after that, the two were married. They remain inseparable, doing everything together.

“She has such a strong faith,” Terry said. “I give her all the credit for leading me to it.” With her characteristic gentleness and compassions, Mary Jane guided Terry along the path of his faith journey.

And that brings us back to the couple’s work with St. Croix hospice. 

“Our love is all about rolling up our sleeves and helping, and this is one way we do it,” said Terry. 

The Coles hope to return to their hospice work as soon as it’s safe to do so. Until then, they will find other ways to share their time and talents.

“Much is needed everywhere,” Mary Jane said. “We feel blessed to have the time and energy to help, and we’ll keep helping—together—for as long as we are able.”

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