The over-arching ethos of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, a national organization, is one of service to the community and to those in need. Not only does Telluride’s Lodge No. 692 provide scholarships and opportunities to local youth, area veterans and Elks national efforts, but to its own. This time around, the call is out to assist a stalwart member, Mark Niebruegge, with what are already staggering medical bills incurred when he suffered a recent fall that resulted in a significant head injury.
The longtime local, an Elks Past Exalted Ruler (PER) and father of two, fell while hailing the bus for a ride home to Lawson Hill. He was assisted by a witness before being treated at the Telluride Regional Medical Center, according to his daughter, Ryan Niebruegge, and then was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. There, according to an informational email sent to Elks lodge members, surgeons removed blood from his cranium. Though under heavy sedation earlier this week, he was able to respond to requests to wiggle his toes or give a thumbs-up, and could squeeze his daughters’ and mother’s hands.
“The hospital expenses are going to be extraordinary,” the email further read, “and the Telluride Elks Lodge is asking for your help in relieving some of Mark's financial distress as he navigates the long journey to recovery.”
To that end, the lodge has set up a GoFundMe account. Additionally, the lodge has received an anonymous matching donation of up to $10,000.
Lodge officials are also planning a fundraiser for mid-September.
Niebruegge is a lodge member who has long stepped up to the plate in a number of capacities from taking on official lodge leadership roles to volunteering at various fundraisers and other events. PER and the lodge’s current treasurer, Cindy Wyszynski, recounted another of Niebruegge’s selfless acts for the Elks.
"A few years ago, when the board of directors of the Telluride Elks realized a paid club manager was no longer financially feasible, Mark stepped up as a volunteer to keep the social quarters going,” she said. “Since then, he's volunteered at least 30 hours a week for our lodge.”
The lodge, which is located in the historic Swede-Finn Hall at 472 West Pacific Ave., realized a significant savings with that offer, she said.
“This financial relief has allowed the Telluride Elks to concentrate more fully on our mission — outreach into our community and programs for our local veterans and youth,” Wyszynski said. “There is no way to properly thank a volunteer who puts that many hours and so much heart into an organization, especially one who shies away from praise or recognition as Mark does. But what we can do is step up for him in a time of great need and help him to relieve his financial distress.”
Niebrugge’s daughters, Ryan and Bailey, and his mother, Beverly Niebruegge, flew to Grand Junction to be with him as he begins the long road to recovery.
“He’s so confused and can get agitated, but seeing us calms him,” Ryan said.
Ryan explained her father has been talking and is awake more often, though he has no recollection of what happened. She said the family expects he’ll be at St. Mary’s for at least another few weeks before he goes into a facility that specializes in rehabilitating patients who have suffered brain injuries.
“It’s a long road ahead,” Ryan said. Her father is not yet walking on his own.
As of Thursday, he was still in the intensive care unit, though he could be moved in a few days, Ryan said. Visitors, she added, are most welcome. Niebruegge’s mother will be able to stay with him until he is transferred to rehab. Family members are still deciding where he’ll go to rehab and may choose a facility in Tulsa, where his mother and daughter Bailey live.
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.