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Wayne Post
  • SHARING THE BOUNTY: Couple’s generosity helps organizers find spot for Canandaigua Comfort Care Home

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    • “The more I thought about it, I realized it’s the perfect house, the perfect location, the perfect ending for myself and my family.”— Tammy Matson
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      “The more I thought about it, I realized it’s the perfect house, the perfect location, the perfect ending for myself and my family.”

      — Tammy Matson

  • CANANDAIGUA — It was meant to be.
    In the living room of what will one day be the Canandaigua Comfort Care Home, Max Bishop, a pastor at St. Brendan's Christian Fellowship, repeated that sentiment — this house is the one they’ve been looking for, he said.
    For the home’s current owner, the widow of a beloved Canandaigua newsman, the transformation of the spot into a place where terminally ill people will spend their final days is a fitting finale to a chapter in the family’s lives.
    But it wasn’t fate alone that led to the purchase of the two-story cape, which sits atop a hill off Parrish Street Extension. It was also because of the determination and generosity of a few individuals.
    ***
    For many, bringing a comfort care home to Canandaigua has been a goal for years, said Canandaigua Comfort Care Home President Rich Russell. Since holding their first public meeting in February 2012, members of Canandaigua Comfort Care Home Inc. have stressed the importance of finding an ideal location — a spot within a two-mile radius of City Hall.
    The first piece in securing a location fell into place when Tammy Matson put her three-story Canandaigua home for sale in June.
    For Matson, selling the house — which sits on five acres on Parrish Street Extension, off Routes 5 and 20 — wasn’t anything she had envisioned. But the sudden death of her husband, Bob — former executive editor at Messenger Post Newspapers and director of community affairs at Finger Lakes Community College — in November 2012, changed that.
    “My son said, ‘mom, just sell the house,’” Matson said. “It just wasn’t the same without their dad.”
    The house, which the Matsons have owned since 1997, drew interest from multiple people — including the Comfort Care group. A major obstacle was still in place though, said Mary Brady, chairwoman of the group’s site committee. The cost of the home would set them back more than $300,000. And there was another problem: The group didn’t have the money. But they put in an offer anyway.
    “I got nervous. We wanted to buy the house, but we didn’t have a fundraising committee,” Brady said. “I was afraid we would lose the house.”
    As she drove down Parrish Street Extension one day, Brady noticed a neighbor’s large antique tractor collection, which was expected to net a very large sum of money in an auction. It may have been a long shot, but this gave her an idea. She was going to see the “tractor man.”
    ***
    Jim Erdle, 85, isn’t afraid to make a wisecrack. The Canandaigua resident and collector of valuable antique prairie tractors isn’t shy about showing off his wide grin either. For Erdle, and his wife, Anne, there is plenty to smile about these days. Proceeds from his September tractor auction, which drew visitors from around the world, netted him a profit of more than $1 million, he said. While the Erdles wanted to make sure their family was taken care of, there was talk they were seeking a charity to donate to as well. Brady wondered if the Comfort Care Home might be that charity.
    Page 2 of 3 - So she headed over to the Erdle’s Parrish Street home.
    “I know a woman who knows him,” recalled Brady. “She said to just knock on his door. One afternoon, I finally got my nerve and knocked on his door … I had never done anything like this.”
    But things didn’t go well in that first meeting, when Brady explained their cause, and that they were seeking funds to buy the Matson home for use as a comfort care facility.
    “I’m just a poor farmer,” Erdle told her, suggesting she speak with some of the other wealthy members of the community, like Danny Wegman or George Hamlin IV.
    Still, Brady wasn’t deterred, and continued stopping by the Erdle home to pitch the donation idea to the longtime Canandaigua residents. But she still wasn’t getting anywhere.
    “I became convinced he wasn’t going to give me money,” Brady said.
    Erdle admitted he gave Brady a hard time. She didn’t ask for a specific dollar figure, and when she told him the cost of the house — $323,000 — he was surprised by the price.
    “What are you building, a palace?” Erdle recalled saying.
    And then Brady and the Comfort Care Home’s fortunes changed. Jim had a change of heart. Her diligence had paid off.
    “I suppose,” Jim told his wife, Anne, toward the end of September, “I could buy the house.”
    However, Brady wasn’t the first to get the news. She said a friend employed by a not-for-profit had also reached out to Erdle for money. The friend was told by Jim that he had to take care of Brady and the Comfort Care Home first.
    The donation of the home by Erdle moved the fundraising stage ahead considerably.
    Jim said the donation would not have been possible without the money from the antique tractor auction.
    “The auction bought the house,” Jim said.
    Jim remains modest about the $323,000 check he cut to purchase the Cape Cod-style house, which will be owned by Canandaigua Comfort Care Home, Inc. He deferred the kudos to his wife.
    “We wanted to make sure we knew where the money was going,” Anne said of the gift.
    ***
    While getting the house is a major step, there is still plenty of work ahead, Russell said.
    For one, more money is needed for about $150,000 in capital improvements and renovations, Russell said. Among the projects: removing an in-ground pool, converting some bedrooms into offices and building a porch to wheel the patient beds outside.
    Then there are the day-to-day costs of operating the home.
    Stephanie Lindquist, a Canandaigua Comfort Care Home board member, said the yearly operating budget for House of John — the Clifton Springs comfort care home that the Canandaigua house will model itself after — is about $200,000. The Canandaigua group would like to raise $1 million to ensure a solid future, Lindquist said.
    Page 3 of 3 - Tammy Matson will stay in the home until April, and the goal is to begin renovation work later that spring. According to Russell, an aggressive timeline would have the comfort care home home open at the end of 2014. Bishop said the date is optimistic, but achievable.
    It’s expected the home would receive 30 to 40 residents a year, said Suzanne Underhill, advanced illness-care coordinator at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center, and it would need around 100 volunteers.
    “The big issue will be training volunteers,” Russell said.
    Organizers have started the volunteer recruitment process, and they already have at least one volunteer signed up, and she is someone who knows the house better than anyone else — Tammy Matson.
    ***
    Tammy is familiar with the health care business — she works as a dental hygienist — but she’s never done anything like volunteering at a comfort care home. Still, she knew right away she would want to volunteer once her former home is transformed into a spot of peace and spiritual transition.
    “It’s an honor to have the house used this way,” Tammy said. “How many homeowners can walk out the door knowing their house will be used for something sacred?”
    The house’s transition from family home to end-of-life destination, has a special meaning for her. Before his death, Bob was asked to join the Comfort Care Home board. He never got the chance to answer, but Tammy knows it would have been a yes.
    “Bob would be thrilled,” Mayor Ellen Polimeni said of the Matson home being the chosen spot for comfort care. “He was always very community minded.”
    When she moves out, Tammy will leave much behind. She’s selling the furniture, but leaving the basement pool table, along with the antique piano behind for future guests. She’s even leaving Comet behind — the basement pinball game that her husband achieved the high score in after many post-work stress-relieving sessions.
    While she’s making a life transition of her own, it’s far from a sad ending, Tammy emphasized. It’s the beginning of the next chapter.
    “The more I thought about it, I realized it’s the perfect house, the perfect location, the perfect ending for myself and my family. And it’s a beautiful thing for the community,” she said. “It’s a beautiful ending for the Matson family.”
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