A high honor, and a difficult diagnosis
As Dick Bentrup received recognition from the Wadena County Social Services Board for his years of work, he was at a crossroads. Upon his recent retirement, he has left a legacy of accomplishments behind him and now is making the most of a future...
As Dick Bentrup received recognition from the Wadena County Social Services Board for his years of work, he was at a crossroads. Upon his recent retirement, he has left a legacy of accomplishments behind him and now is making the most of a future that will be cut short by terminal cancer.
"I've seen death because I've worked in Hospice," he said. "In some ways it's a little bit easier because I've seen a lot."
Bentrup grew up around the Grand Forks area in Fisher, Minn. He went into the service during the Vietnam War, and although he never went over to Vietnam itself, he was a social worker at William Belmont Hospital in El Paso.
In 1972, he moved to the Wadena area. In 1975, he was one of the founding members of the Wadena County Child Protection Team.
"I can still remember the first meeting. It was in the old hospital. A bunch of county providers got together," Bentrup said.
Providers, he explained, include social services, law enforcement, county attorneys, mental health, public health, hospitals, physicians, schools and social workers.
"As I understand, Wadena County was the first child protection team in the state," Bentrup said. "We were the one that developed the legislation that made it legal to have teams so that providers could communicate with each other."
He said that providers are mandated reporters and must report suspected abuse and neglect in good faith and with good cause.
"We help families become stronger so they are able to keep their kids," Bentrup said.
On Oct. 19, the Wadena County Social Services board decided to rename the Child Welfare Social and Recreational Fund as the Richard E. Bentrup Children and Families Fund. The program supports summer recreation, camping and other activities for kids.
"To me it's a great honor," Bentrup said.
Bentrup also served on the school board for 18 years and worked at the hospital for 38 years.
"I was the first full-time social worker at the hospital in Wadena," he said. "I really enjoyed Hospice."
He also served on the M State board, and he and was involved in the Rotary Club for about 30 years.
In 2002, he was one of the founding members of the Wadena County Adult Protection Team. He said that some adults, especially seniors, may face abuse, neglect, poor living conditions or financial manipulation.
Bentrup served on the Child Protection Team until 2008 and on the Adult Protection Team until 2010.
In January 2010, he began to have extreme itch and liver trouble and later retired at age 64 instead of 65 as he had originally planned. In September, he found out the terminal nature of his health problems.
"I retired and found out I have cancer," Bentrup said.
It was bile duct cancer, also known as cholangiocarcinoma.
"It's a very rare cancer," he said.
Bentrup said that he would be going to Mayo Clinic in Rochester to get photodynamic treatment.
"But I enjoy life. I look at the good side. My friends keep me going," Bentrup said. "If I get this treatment, one to two years. If not, it would be months."
Bentrup has a wife, Lin, a son, a daughter and a 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. He has many friends in Wadena, still volunteers in Hospice, and is a member of Rotary and the Sebeka American Legion.
He said that friends have their own grief process.
"They're struggling with that too, that they're losing a friend and you kind of help them through that too," Bentrup said.
He finds time for his usual hobbies, even though going to the VA and trips to the Mayo Clinic keep him busy.
"I'm into yard work. I've got 30 roses that I have to keep alive until winter," Bentrup said. "I still do some volunteer work in Hospice."
He talked about the experience of having terminal cancer.
"You have time to prepare for death, get your funeral set up, your cemetery lot, your financials," Bentrup said.
It is different from the experience of most people entering retirement.
"You could be angry and you could be mad because you just retired and you find out you had cancer. I've seen that in Hospice. ... You could go in the grave angry and bitter and I'm not going to let that happen to me. I'm going to live life as best as I can until whatever happens, happens," Bentrup said.
What would he say to others enduring cancer?
"We still are active; do as much as you can as long as you can."
He has many years behind him and is dealing with the time he has left.
"My faith is very important," he said. "Continue making contact with your friends, because they are the ones that really give you the support. I think I got a purpose in life."