This story highlights the journey one couple has taken from their simple Upper Peninsula start to the big city and back. It is not only a story about their lives and relationship but about how they have dealt Ann’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and the effect is has had upon their journey together.
Phil Hill stands at the dining room window in the spacious home shared with his wife Ann near National Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). To his right stands the house where he grew up with sister Lee Irish and their Finnish parents. He enjoys the wide expanse of view. Ann sits silently beside him in a wheelchair. He can’t know if she enjoys it, too. Ann has Alzheimer’s.
Anna Kumpula Hill (called Ann) was born in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the first of eleven children in the Kumpula Coast Guard family. They grew up at Portage Entry west of Houghton, and later at the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. An antique settee in the Hill’s living room attests to their boisterous spirits. Restoration has replaced the rattan backing worn from children poking their fingers and pencils through the openings.
During World War II, her father was called to active duty to serve in the Pacific. The family moved to Calumet where Ann graduated from high school.
Meanwhile, the Upper Peninsula was carving an indelible mark on Phil. His childhood was much like others growing up in the north woods on the farm founded by his Finnish grandparents. Although he was not a hunter or a fisherman, he loved the outdoors. He also held a fascination for what makes things work. While in his teens, the family bought a lot on Casey Lake down a two-rut road south of Republic. Rather than waste time going back and forth, they harvested logs from the farm and built the cabin there. Two years later, all logs were numbered, disassembled, and trucked to the lake where it was reassembled.
Following high school and reluctant to venture far from home, Phil enrolled in pre-engineering at Northern Michigan University. Then, he dropped engineering and followed a quest where he hoped he could also make a difference. For a young man who was at first apprehensive about leaving Marquette County, Phil and his wife Ann have packed a lot of living in their years.
“I always knew we would come back,” he said.
Still living diverse lives, the 6-foot, 2 inch young man dropped his engineering dream. He picked up various jobs, and was drafted for the Korean War as a clerk at the 5th Army Headquarters, Fort Sheridan, IL. Then he enrolled at the University of Michigan in Pharmaceutics. His studies included pharmaceutical development.
“At the Ishpeming Library, I had looked up all the things that pharmacy could entail,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Ann had grown into a lovely petite brunette. She, too, started traveling, including to California where she modeled as a blonde for a hair salon. It was more tradition than chance that both Phil and Ann ended up in Waukegan, Illinois. Many adventurous U.P. youths climbed aboard the train and headed for Chicago, then on to Waukegan.
Both eventually found jobs at the Abbott Laboratories, Pharmaceutical at Waukegan in its development division. But first: they met at a Yooper gathering place, Pete’s Tavern, where they enjoyed polkas, jitterbugs and friends.
“Romance took a while. She dated my cousin first,” he said.
They were married in 1974. The couple founded a tradition that is still part of their daily lives, although it comes earlier now. Every afternoon at five o’clock, Phil heads for their spacious living room to switch on music and a string of lights that follow up the beam to a sign that reads “Happy Hour”. Phil chuckles and says, “Manhattans, wherever we were.” Does Ann remember, too?
Phil’s work was fulfilling, especially projects such as his position on the start-up team for Abbott’s new plant in Puerto Rico. He was on-site for six months, and then returned regularly as needed. Travel became part of his career.
In 1975, Ann had by-pass surgery which left a recurring problem with recommended retirement. Phil saw the plus side. “It made her available for travel.”
She also helped organize a travel club for Abbott employees. Names of favorite destinations soothe his memory: St. Martin, Hawaii, Greece, Portugal, England, France, China, Mexico – the list goes on. At favorites, they sometimes bought into time-share condos. There were several trips to Finland, including a memorable three weeks with their parents, all of Finnish descent.
“That trip was especially nice. Our parents spoke Finnish, so we were able to meet numerous cousins there.”
The Hills and three other couples formed a dining club. They called it “The Aristocrats”, meeting at alternate homes. When at the Hill’s, they both contributed to the menu. He still enjoys cooking.
In 1994, Phil retired. They came back to build the home they had spent years planning. They continued to travel, attend weddings and family gatherings for a growing number of nephews and nieces, and occasionally dance at Carl Pellonpaa’s Suomi Kutsu in Ishpeming’s Elks Club.
A few years later, Phil thought little of their visit with friends back to St. Martin’s when Anna who was meticulous with her dress showed up for an outing wearing her socks inside-out. It seemed worth no more than a chuckle. Slowly, other incidences occurred. It wasn’t funny anymore. “By then, I knew.”
As the disease progressed, Phil joined a men’s lunch group through the Alzheimer’s Association. Through word-of-mouth, Ann was enrolled in the Ishpeming Senior Center and the Marquette Adult Day Services in Marquette. She was transported by car, then by bus with a lift. A phobia of space as the lift moved downward canceled that option. Now, she is home-bound, demanding complete care.
A social worker with U. P. Home Health and Hospice (UPHHH) suggested Hospice as an option. Their physician agreed. Options have become an important part of their daily lives, but they no longer face them alone. They receive support coordinated through UPHHH with care-givers, private duty nurses, lift bed and other services as needed.
“We strive to personalize the care of each patient as we access their changing needs,” said Jeff Nyquist, PhD, Executive Director of UPHHH in Marquette.
Phil said without support, he could not keep Ann with him. This is what keeps him going, and seals the longtime date he keeps every afternoon at five o’clock with his silver-haired lady for Happy Hour.