April 21, 2019 10:54 PM
(ABC 6 News) -- People from all over the world travel to Rochester seeking medical treatment at Mayo Clinic.
Adding the cost of hotels to already steep medical bills can be an extra hardship for those out-of-towners trying to make ends meet.
That’s something Lesa Molitor struggled with when her husband was diagnosed with cancer.
"Oh my husband was a character. He had a huge personality bigger than life,” said Molitor.
Lesa and Joe Molitor were married nearly 15 years.
"We had only been married for a year and a half at the time that he was diagnosed. Life changed drastically very fast,” said Molitor.
In 2008, Joe was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of disease that causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. He needed a stem cell transplant at Mayo Clinic.
"Which entailed coming down for two weeks to have his stem cells removed and then when he was to have the actual transplant it was to be a little over a month. You panic because the hotels down here are not cheap,” she said.
Joe, who was a Chicago Police detective who retired in Wisconsin after serving 35 years, saw a solution in his police union newsletter. It was an ad for the House of Shields, a Rochester nonprofit that offers free lodging for police officers seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.
"When people call about apartments, I usually say yeah we have apartments. They're for officers or any members of their immediate families. The cost is free and I will only reserve a room a day or two prior to them coming because once you're in you're in. We're not gonna kick you out,” said the Founder of House of Shields Don Bray.
The idea came to Bray, who was a Rochester Police officer for 30 years, after a law enforcement friend from the Iron Range spent a month at Mayo Clinic.
"Talking with him and everything he pretty much went through all of their savings and it was kind of a hardship. What are we doing for our officers that are here in town? We're not doing anything. We're supposed to be brothers,” he said.
So he had the idea to open the House of Shields, welcoming in officers from around the world.
“We might work in a different part of the county, but we all see the same thing and go through the same thing. We're kind of like a big family,” he said.
To make it happen, Bray got in touch with Jeff Allman, the owner of a historic downtown Rochester building, who gave them the first House of Shields apartment for free.
"I'm kind of a historic preservation buff so I also take seriously things that are too good to throw away. This building had gone dormant for a while. To find new life and provide now 11 years of House of Shields is a great rise up from the ashes,” said Allman.
The House of Shields continued to grow through private donations, as well as donations from Kwik Trip.
Out of the 66 units in the building, three are reserved for law enforcement officials and their families.
Each room includes a bed, TV, closet, couch, fridge, and pantry—not to mention all of the donations from past visitors.
"Coffee pot is donated, the toaster is donated, iron board donated,” said Bray.
"You can just set it up like it's your own little home. And it was,” said Molitor.
For Molitor, House of Shields provided comfort in a difficult time.
"Anytime we came down here the friends that we had made down here other policemen and their wives they just became very dear friends of ours. It made coming to Rochester feel a lot less scary,” she said.
After a ten year battle, Joe passed away this fall.
"He was really tough. He knew this was coming and he really took it in stride,” she said.
He decided to give back to the community that gave to him.
"Joe actually donated himself to research here at Mayo Clinic. So they are still working on him over here. I do feel close to him down here,” she said.
For more information on the House of Shields head to their website here: http://rochesterhouseofshields.com/
Updated: April 21, 2019 10:54 PM
Created: April 21, 2019 09:51 PM
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