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Tenth Annual “Longest Night” Memorial Honors Homeless Who Died in Madison and Dane County in 2017

Almost 70 caring Madison souls followed two majestic Clydesdale horses pulling an American-flag-draped coffin on a carriage in a solemn procession around the Capitol Square on the afternoon of December 21, 2017, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year (photo by Mark Golbach). The procession was in memory and honor of homeless individuals who had passed in Madison and Dane County in 2017. The flag recognizes that many of such homeless are veterans of US military service. Procession participants included houseless individuals, members of local faith communities, representatives from social service agencies, homeless advocates, as well as the general public. The service was a reminder that every year members of our community, brothers and sisters, sons, fathers, husbands, wives, and children die while they are homeless. Too often, their deaths are invisible; there is no obituary, no funeral. The Longest Night service is an opportunity to remember, honor, celebrate, and mourn the passing of those in our community who have died. “Because every life should be celebrated and every death mourned, we gather each year on the Square in community, in sorrow, and in hope,” said Jeremy Evenson, dedicated leader of the Street Pulse homeless newspaper and President of the Street Pulse Board. At a time when many are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Madison paused for a moment to remember its brothers and sisters who can also find no room at the inn. This service was an opportunity to ensure that every life is celebrated and remembered, that no one’s death among us goes unnoticed. The service included music, prayer, reflections, and remembrances of our neighbors who have died this year and who were homeless. The procession was followed by a light soup and bread reception at the First United Methodist Church and then by a moving interfaith service, also at First United.

This year’s procession began with “A Celebration of Life—for Those Who Are Homeless and Those Who Have Died in 2017” at a marble bench (at the corner of East Main, South Pinckney, and King Street) on the Capitol Square near where the lifeless body of a young homeless man, Dwayne Warren, had been found in the summer of 2009, just feet from the Capitol steps. Suffering from bacterial sepsis, Dwayne had perished alone and outside after a life of noble struggle on the streets of Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. Dwayne had a special friend who was greatly saddened by his passing. Todd Hunter, an attorney who has his office on the Square had come to know and befriend Dwayne Warren, who Todd had found to be exceptionally kind and thoughtful. Todd had even bought Dwayne a snowsuit for Christmas one winter to help him keep warm.

After helping arrange a funeral service for Dwayne, Todd worked with Linda Ketcham, Executive Director of Madison-area Urban Ministries (MUM) and Eldonna Hazen, Pastor, First Congregational Church of Christ, to organize Madison’s second “Longest Night Homeless Persons’ Memorial” in the winter of 2009. There had been a smaller Madison service conducted in the winter of 2008. This year’s service is the tenth such event in Madison and in the last five years, the Clydesdale horses have been added, thanks to the generous involvement of Nancy and Wayne Osterhaus who live in nearby Columbus, Wisconsin, and own four pure-bred Clydesdales (Lash, Lou, Tilly, and Belle). Nancy and Wayne run the Midwest Equestrian Center in Columbus, and Nancy is a former mayor of that city. Nancy and Wayne, whose Clydesdales are involved in many different events throughout the year, noted that the Madison homeless memorial event is “our very favorite event of the year and is very dear to us.”

At the marble bench this year, prayers and readings honoring the homeless were recited by community and religious leaders including Rabbi Bonnie Margulis (Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice), Reverend Eldonna Hazen (Pastor, First Congregational United Church of Christ), Linda Ketcham (Executive Director, Madison-area Urban Ministries), Reverend Stephen Marsh (Board President of Madison-area Urban Ministries and Co-Pastor, Lake Edge Lutheran Church), Reverend Lex Liberatore (Pastor, Lake Edge United Church of Christ), Tami Fleming (Volunteer Coordinator, The Beacon; Founder of Friends of the State Street Family), and Reverend Christa Fisher (Chaplain, Madison Area Jail Ministry). And then the names of those homeless who had died were read aloud, solemnly and with reverence.

These included Charles “Maverick” Mansini (passed on October 21, 2017), Jane Doe (passed in 2017 at a Madison shelter), Nebuchanezzar (Chase) Wright (passed in October 2017, at the age of 35), Phillip Charles Stephens (1980-2017), Richard Wanke (5/14/1948 – 10/18/2017), Jim Sundby, Lysa Frances (passed on December 15, 2017, at the age of 28), Frances “Courtney” Pressley (passed at age 44), and David E. Moore (“Uncle Dave”) (passed on September 19, 2006, leaving two beautiful children).

The Madison ceremony was one of many such ceremonies that took place this year on December 21 all across the United States as part of the 2017 National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day supported by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), the National Consumer Advisory Board, and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Since 1990, the NCH has sponsored National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day every year on December 21 – the first day of winter and the longest night of the year – to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember those who have died while living without a permanent home. In 2005, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and the National Consumer Advisory Board joined the NCH as co-sponsors of this meaningful event. In an effort to maximize the impact of the day, the groups encourage local and statewide organizations to hold memorials for the homeless individuals who have died in their communities that year. In 2016, over 179 Homeless Memorial Day events were held on or around December 21st to honor the people who died homeless.

In Thursday’s memorial in Madison, the Clydesdale-led procession moved one-and-a-half times around the Capitol Square before returning to the First United Methodist Church. The event was organized by the Madison-area Urban Ministry (MUM), Hope’s Home Ministries of the First United Methodist Church, the Madison Area Jail Ministry, the Lake Edge United Church of Christ, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, and the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

SOUP AND BREAD RECEPTION

The hour-long outdoor memorial and Clydesdale-led procession of remembrance and hope was followed by a welcoming light soup and bread reception at the nearby First United Methodist Church and then by an interfaith candlelight service, also at the church. For the reception, vegetarian soups by Epic Chefs & Healthy Food for All, artisan breads by Clasen’s European Bakery, and desserts by Carl’s Cakes and Just Bakery were provided. Participants were welcomed to the reception by Karen Andro, Director, Hope’s Home Ministries, First United Methodist Church and a blessing was given by Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

Karen then introduced five distinguished speakers who are close to the homeless in Madison: Linda Ketcham, Executive Director, Madison-area Urban Ministries (MUM); Todd Hunter, Esq., Todd Hunter Law Office; street outreach volunteer Savang Chhorm; Tami Fleming, Volunteer Coordinator, The Beacon, and Founder of Friends of the State Street Family; and formerly homeless, Vietnam-era Marine veteran John Haines.

Linda spoke about the origins of the “Longest Night” memorial and how it had started in a small way in 2008 under the leadership of Donna Asif who had founded Project Bubbles at the Grace Episcopal Church. Then, the event had grown with the involvement of Madison attorney Todd Hunter in 2009, sparked by the memory of Todd’s homeless friend Dwayne Warren, who had died that year. Linda also stressed the need to bring justice to the entire community.

Todd spoke on the importance of having open hearts and he read quotes bearing on this topic.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

“There is a profound ground of unity that is more pertinent and authentic than all the unilateral dimension of our lives. This a man discovers when he is able to keep open the door of his heart. This is one’s ultimate responsibility, and it is not dependent upon whether the heart of another is kept open for him. (Howard Thurman, “A Strange Freedom”).

And Todd closed with a prayer, “Open our hearts, God. To instruction unheard. To possibility unseen. To love unfelt. To joy unknown. If we have been closed off, we repent. And we ask you to open our hearts. Amen.”

Tami spoke with deep emotion about the homeless who had touched her and whom she had touched in her long journey of compassion and constructive selfless help for others. She fondly remembered Lenny, Steve, Merle & Jim, Ernie, Maverick, Bill—the Navy veteran who had hugged her hard the last time she saw him, and Jessie with the beautiful rainbow hair. Tami said she is so much better for having known these people and it so important to end the poverty, and apathy, and addiction that contribute to their troubles. She quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson on the importance of leading a useful life, and making a difference. There was not a dry eye when Tami finished.

The next speaker was Savang Chhorm, a street outreach volunteer who had lost her father when she was 4, and her mother when she was 13. She said she was honored to be at this service and she emphasized the importance of compassion. She mentioned seeing her friend John Haines sleeping on the Capitol Square in minus-10-degree weather and noted the importance of a simple smile. She added that “the time for giving is every day.”

John has successfully moved from life on the streets to a life at home and he thanked Savang and Tami and Karen, and the First United Methodist Church for all they had done for him. John, who will be 60 this month, had seven heart attacks while out on the street. He started volunteering at First United and he began to turn his life around. Now he tries to help out anyone he can.

INTERFAITH CANDLELIGHT SERVICE

The interfaith service began with a welcome and invocation by Reverend Dr. Mark Fowler (Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church) and was followed by an opening song (Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”) performed on guitar by Les Goldsmith. Then, community and religious leaders stepped forward to offer their reflections as candles were lit. Sister Maureen McDonnell (Sinsinawa Dominicans) spoke on homelessness; Art Shegonee (Native American) spoke on poverty; Assistant District Attorney and Muslim Awais Khaleel spoke on justice; Buddhist Laiman Mai spoke on health care; and Lisa Kelly, representing the Bahai community, spoke on love.

Then Minister LaTanya Maymon (Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church) stepped forward to sing, in her glorious voice, “I Feel Like Pressing On,” and this was followed by another moving series of reflections. Islamist Eugene Crisler-El spoke on mercy; Minister Anthony Watkins (Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church) spoke on hunger; Reverend Cindy Crane (Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin) spoke on LGBTQ rights; Rabbi Bonnie Margulis (Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice) spoke on compassion; and Reverend Eldonna Hazen (Pastor, First Congregational United Church of Christ) spoke on immigration.

John Haines had been scheduled to read aloud the names of the homeless who were memorialized in today’s ceremony of remembrance and hope. But most unfortunately, John was taken ill during the service and had to be taken to the hospital. We have since learned that John was suffering from low blood sugar and, thankfully, is now doing well.

In John’s stead, Karen Andro came forward and read the names that were noted earlier and then she asked the audience if they had anyone else they would like to remember. Mentioned then were Dwayne Warren, Jennifer Baur, Eli McCloud, and Lenny. During the reading of the names, Native American singer and drummer Art Shegonee played low drum sounds, ending with him singing a short native honor song with the drum. The native drum sound always represents a heartbeat.

The service ended with a benediction by Reverend Christa Fisher (Chaplain, Madison Area Jail Ministry) and then everyone headed out into the cold Madison night, but warmed inside by love and honor for all those who had struggled so hard and yet not quite been able to make it in our world today, and for all those kind and generous souls who had made this very special day of kind, constructive, and hopeful humanity possible.

ORGANIZERS-LEADERSHIP TEAM

The leadership team for the organization of this year’s memorial event included Linda Ketcham, Executive Director, Madison-area Urban Ministries (MUM); Todd Hunter, Esq., Todd Hunter Law Office; Karen Andro, Director of Hope's Home Ministries, First United Methodist Church; Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice; Reverend Christa Fisher, Chaplain, Madison Area Jail Ministry; Reverend Eldonna Hazen, Pastor, First Congregational United Church of Christ; and Reverend Lex Liberatore, Pastor, Lake Edge United Church of Christ.

THE CLYDESDALE HORSES

Much thanks also go to Nancy and Wayne Osterhaus who live in nearby Columbus, Wisconsin, and own and provide the Clydesdales (Lash & Tilly, this year) that add so much to the solemnity and gravitas of the annual memorial. Nancy and Wayne run the Midwest Equestrian Center (http://www.midwestequestriancenter.com/) in Columbus. This is the fifth year that the couple has provided two Clydesdales for the Madison ceremony.

According to Nancy, Clydesdales are gentle giants, usually weighing over 2,000 pounds and standing over 6 feet tall at their shoulder. They eat approximately 50 pounds of hay and 6 pounds of grain a day. Their body temperature is similar to ours, so it takes a lot of hay to keep up their strength and energy. The Clydesdales are friendly and gentle, and love to meet people. They are safe in crowds and around children. Even though they are very large, Clydesdales seem to understand their size and move carefully around people.

Nancy and Wayne own four full-blooded pure-bred Clydesdales. Ten-year-old brothers Lou & Lash were gifts from a long-time family friend from Washington state who had worked as a ferrier for the Budweiser Clydesdales, and these two horses are descendants of the Budweiser Clydesdales. Nancy and Wayne also have a five-year-old rescue Clydesdale (Tilly). Tilly had a badly infected foot, but was saved by treatment at the University of Wisconsin, although the treatment left her completely deaf. They also have a fourth Clydesdale, baby Belle, the youngest. All are powerful gentle giants who are incredibly sweet, Nancy says. Lash and Tilly led this year’s procession.

Nancy and Wayne and their Clydesdales participate in many events throughout the year, and some of these events raise money that Nancy and Wayne always contribute to a special charity of theirs that seeks to help children with cancer. That charity is the Badger Childhood Cancer Network (https://www.badgerchildhoodcancer.org/). It helps families whose child has been diagnosed with cancer. Nancy and Wayne’s grandson was diagnosed with neuroblastoma ten years ago, and they understand the huge impact this has on the whole family.

by Michael D. O'Neill