Mark Niebruegge’s story is — like many stories — one of good news and bad. After falling and suffering a brain injury in late July, the stalwart Elks Lodge member and father of two grown daughters is making a steady recovery.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the costs of the kind of top-notch medical care he has received, and will continue to receive, come at a tremendous cost.
And this is where the Telluride community has stepped in, with boundless energy, resourcefulness and compassion for a fallen friend. Elks Lodge No. 692 is hosting a fundraiser Sept. 20 at the lodge from 4-8 p.m. Spearheading the monumental effort is Kerry Bolger. She has a simple goal.
“This accident will bankrupt our dear friend Mark,” she said. “He will require long-term care in order to succeed in his recovery. Our financial goal is simply to raise as much as we possibly can to help Mark. No limit.”
Bolger has been busy coordinating volunteers and tasks, gathering silent auction items and procuring food and entertainment for next week’s event. As she ticks items off her long to-do list, she finds herself continually impressed “with the impact he has made on this community.”
The community has responded in kind.
“It is reflected in the outpouring of support, from people reaching into their pockets immediately upon reading or hearing his story to those who know him well and are donating goods and services to the silent auction,” Bolger said. “I am incredibly grateful to all who have taken the time to ask about him, and for the concern, support and love. Almost all whom I've approached for donations have promised something without hesitation.”
Niebruegge’s need is the result of a fall he took while hailing a bus for a ride home to his home in Lawson Hill after work. The blow to his head caused bleeding in his cranium. While his progress was initially slow, of late he is making great strides toward recovery. According to his mother, Beverly Niebruegge, he recently had his trach tube removed and his cognitive abilities are re-emerging. On Aug. 29, his daughter Ryan sent this update to the Elks’ Cindy Wyszynski, whose updates on the Telluride Elks’ Facebook page are avidly followed by members and friends.
“Dad just had an actual conversation with the head nurse and it was so huge,” Ryan reported. “And then I started tearing up and Dad said, ‘Are you okay?’ And then we hugged and now I'm crying.”
Ryan, the eldest of Niebruegge’s two daughters, is deeply grateful for the support the Telluride community has shown her father. She said that the efforts shown by the family’s friends as made the “hard experience a little easier and less stressful for us.”
“I cannot successfully put into words how grateful we are for all the hard work that has gone into supporting our father,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who has had an impact on this fundraiser and has made things easier on us while we have been away spending time with him. …We have been truly blessed by each and every one of you and I can’t imagine what we would have done without you all.”
Niebruegge has long been a leader at the local Elks Lodge, having served as Exalted Ruler and other leadership roles within the organization. He had lately been volunteering his time running the Lodge bar, affording the Elks considerable savings by doing so.
But the road ahead is long, and an impending move to rehab in Denver will pile on the costs. Bolger, like many of Niebruegge’s friends and family, remains optimistic.
“Mark is showing significant improvement, which is so encouraging,” Bolger said. “He is a true fighter and no doubt he is swearing right now! Put some money in the swear jar for Mark.”
Bolger said that several items are still needed for the fundraiser, including a ski pass, lodging packages, passes for the Telluride Bluegrass and Blues & Brews festivals and backcountry stays in places such as Alta Observatory. Additionally, she said, donations of food are still being sought. The event will include appetizers to be passed around (so bite-sized, finger foods are ideal).
To donate silent auction items, or to volunteer for the Sept. 20 fundraiser, contact Bolger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 312-859-0438.
The Elks Lodge has received an anonymous matching donation of up to $10,000. To contribute to the fund to defray Niebruegge’s medical expenses, send checks to the Telluride Elks Lodge No. 692, PO Box 986, Telluride 81435. The GoFundMe link is gofundme.com/f/mark039s-medical-bills-support.