Ruth Strunk died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 23 -- 17 months after the death of her husband, John.
Associates of Ascension Via Christi, part of Ascension Kansas/Oklahoma, know the Strunks as the west-Wichita couple who sold all but 40 acres of their third-generation family farm to Via Christi in 2008 so friends and neighbors would have access to care close to home. Ascension Via Christi Hospital St. Teresa staff, patients and families also may remember watching John from their hospital windows as he mowed the pasture on the family homestead.
But the Strunks’ connection with Via Christi and its hospitals didn’t start with the land purchase.
John’s father, who died at a young age, was on the medical staff at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis. Three of his relatives were members of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, one of Via Christi’s founding congregations. And John’s grandfather was a longtime supporter of the orphanage in El Dorado, Kansas, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Via Christi’s other founding congregation.
When John suffered a heart attack several years ago, he chose Via Christi St. Francis for his care. In a thank-you note to the hospital’s administration, Ruth wrote that their son, Adam, editor of a weekly Newton, Kansas, newspaper, “was struck by all the caring hands,” leading him to write a powerful column about his dad’s care.
“During those hours of waiting after you’ve exhausted small talk, there’s nothing to do but observe people on the ICU floor. Patients’ families mourn or rejoice. Some patients have no one to do either with,” he wrote. Watching the doctors, nurses, hospital chaplain and others, “I expected to see a removed professionalism from these people to help them block the emotion or empathy. … But I experienced the opposite. They’ve all been so kind, giving smiles, making jokes, and in some cases, lending an ear. … It struck me at that moment I was witnessing grace.”
Those who got the opportunity to know John and Ruth Strunk, who visited frequently during construction of St. Teresa and were regular visitors to the cafeteria once it opened, felt the same way about them.
“John and Ruth will be long remembered for their big hearts, little acts of kindness and joy they took in ensuring that their family farm would serve the greater good for generations to come,” said Kevin Strecker, who served as the hospital’s first executive leader.
Likewise, the family said they will continue to remember the kindness of their parents’ Via Christi caregivers.
“Were all our nurses and caretakers perfect? No,” Adam said. “However, there were many of them who went above and beyond in helping to take care of Mom and the family as well. They tried to ease her pain and they cried together with us. On those final days many of her nurses from the seventh floor inpatient cancer unit at St. Francis took time on their breaks to go upstairs to the Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice unit to visit Mom and to say goodbye. Those who treated her with compassion and empathy saw her as a person and softened, as much as they could, the pain inflicted by a truly horrible disease. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
In Ruth’s honor, Ascension Via Christi Hospital St. Teresa is conducting a food drive for the Kansas Food Bank.
Photo: John and Ruth Strunk at a reception when Ascension Via Christi Hospital St. Teresa opened in 2009.
Photo: Wichita artist Hugh Greer painted this scene of the Strunks’ homestead and historic Mohr barn, which Ascension Via Christi Hospital St. Teresa now overlooks.