DUBOIS, Wyo. — When Melvin L. (“Pete”) Calhoun first came to Warm Valley Lodge in Dubois, he was only going to stay for a few weeks. As his son Darren puts it, he didn’t want to give up control.
“At some point in the near future,” Darren recalls him saying, “I’m going to want to stop going to dialysis. I’ve been doing it for 5 years.” But it was difficult to decide how to manage that decision.
When he fell off the four-wheeler in the hayfield at the ranch because his legs were failing him, his family tried telling him he couldn’t continue living alone. He checked out facilities in Riverton and Lander but held off. Then someone suggested Warm Valley Lodge.
“We went to see it and it was great,” Darren says. “Close, and small, with a committed staff. You can tell they’re not there just for the paycheck. They love the residents, and they love what they do.”
During the first week, says director Jennifer McCartney RN, he decided he liked it. In the second week, he decided, ‘I’m not going to do this just now.’ He quickly made friends with the other residents, and by the third week, Pete and Charlie [Lodge resident Charlie Edwards], who shared his history of native American heritage and of ranching in Wyoming, were the best of buddies.
After that, she says, he put off ending dialysis as long as he could.
How can you capture the essence of a man who is suddenly gone? Impossible.
Of course, you can cite the details from the obituary: Born in Fort Washakie in 1941, and grew up in Crowheart, along the river. Member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe on both sides of his family. Attended the University of Wyoming. Ranched for 52 years. Hunted, took pack trips, roped and rode bulls in rodeos. Founded a float trip company in the Wind River Canyon and then another on the Wind River Reservation close to Dubois. Was a board member of the Wind River Economic Development Fund.
But these are mere credentials, not the measure of the man. What was so fine about Pete Calhoun? Charlie Edwards, who became his dear friend quickly and all too briefly, shrugs and says simply: “He was so … honest.”
“I think Charlie quickly caught that he would always be straightforward and not evade the truth,” says his son Darren. “He used to say, One thing I don’t do is lie. He said that to the end.”
While living at the Lodge, Pete was often away – attending dialysis 3 times a week, or just hanging out at the ranch with his dog. It felt good just to be able still to go back.
During his days at the Lodge, he was an asset to the weekly reading group, which had been studying an oral history of the area and the journal of a man who had lived in Crowheart. Pete could enhance the readings with his own memories and vivid details about the landscape, bringing the history alive for others in the group.
He never missed any of the arts and crafts sessions, and it was his idea to display the projects near the front door where visitors could see them.
Finally, when the former rancher and bull rider was completely confined to a wheelchair, he told Jen McCartney the time had come. At first, he intended to enter hospice care back at the ranch. But offered the choice of staying at the Lodge for his hospice, Pete decided to stay because that would be easier for his children.
“Everything was set up for him,” she says, “and then he went. I admired him so much for making a difficult decision and being so gracious about it.”
On the day he passed away, when a Shoshone leader came to the Lodge for a blessing with cedar and prayer, the family allowed Jennifer McCartney to be present.
“It was breathtaking,” she says. “I felt so honored.”
As indeed she was, because in lieu of flowers, the obituary asks for donations to be sent to Warm Valley Lodge, the place where Pete Calhoun at long last came to rest in peace.
“If anybody has any question about the capacity to care and have compassion in a beautiful, well-run facility, I couldn’t recommend any place more than Warm Valley Lodge,” says his son Darren. “It’s phenomenal.”
For more information about Warm Valley Lodge, click here or call 307-455-2645.