Parkview Health Logo

The gift of a Legacy Bear

Last Modified: October 23, 2023

Generosity Heals, Family Medicine


This is a testimonial that demonstrates the power of generosity, professionals following their calling, and capturing the sacred moments that truly matter.

Sewers, assemble

Twelve years ago, Judy Choker, then a hospice volunteer, was donating her talents through the Busy Needles Sewing Group. When another member saw an article asking for donated stuffed bears, Judy spoke up. “I said, ‘I may be able to get women to do that.’” She recruited 15 women, mostly retired, who attended St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, where Judy is a member of the congregation.

Using donated materials, the group created an assembly line to make the stuffed keepsakes. “Two ladies cut the pattern, two would sew toe to toe and front to back,” Judy said. “Then someone else sews the ears. Then someone would stuff them.”

While these bears were initially used to honor veterans, a few years into the program, a nurse suggested making Legacy Bears, to honor all hospice patients. A decade later, the Busy Needles Sewing Group continues to gift the stuffed animals, giving away around 600 this year alone.

“It’s wonderful to see the patients' faces when you give them the bear,” Judy said. “People like to hold things when they’re dying. Many don’t have anyone. It’s a labor of love for all of us.”

About a year ago, the sewers incorporated the option to record the patient’s voice with a message for their loved ones, kept in an attached backpack on the bear. “The Hospice NCAT team developed the idea for the recorders and wrote up a proposal for the Parkview Foundation,” Lorie Lucas, RN, Hospice Case Manager, Parkview Noble Hospital, said. The Foundation approved and continues to support this special legacy project.

“An activity like recording their voice, that they can do while they are still alive, that will impact their family once they are gone, is so powerful,” Lorie said. “Just like the name implies, it allows them to have an opportunity to leave their ‘legacy’ after they’re gone, which helps families with their grief.”

Eileen’s legacy

Eileen Conrad, 89, lives with her daughter, Linda Tillman, and is receiving care through Parkview Hospice. Lorie has worked with Eileen and her family since July. “They are very close,” she shared. “Eileen is from England and has lots of stories to tell.”

The family decided to bring in additional medical support after Eileen suffered a significant health event. “My mother had a stroke that affected the right side of her brain,” Linda shared. “It weakened her and changed her ability to be on her own. She uses a walker because she is very unstable, and she needs someone with her.” Additionally, Eileen was recently diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

When Linda learned about the Legacy Bears, she knew it was something she wanted to bring to her mother. “I was very interested because my mother calls everyone in the family on their birthday and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to them. That is one of the things that I am going to miss deeply. So, this was perfect for our family.”

“When the idea was presented to Linda, she burst into tears,” Lorie recalled.

The result was powerful, for all of them. “At first, she was OK with the idea,” Linda recalled. “But then, while she was doing it, it meant much more.” While Linda and her two brothers know they could still have a few years with their mother, “just knowing we have that bear with her singing and her voice is comforting,” she said. Linda plans to use the recording to keep Eileen’s tradition alive after she passes, by calling family members and playing it for them.


Through tears, Linda shared, “When you lose someone really important in your life, you are never going to hear their voice again. It is really hard not to be able to talk to them or hear them. Because of this, we have a piece of my mom that we can keep with us. That song is coming from my mom’s heart. Knowing that I am going to have her beautiful voice is going to mean a lot.”


The many gifts of hospice support

Linda’s gratitude extends beyond the keepsake. “Every person that has come into my home and been with my mom has been amazing,” Linda said. “I cannot thank Parkview Hospice leaders enough for the people they have working for them. They sit and listen to my mom. She is not just another person on their list. From her doctor to the music therapist to her social worker, I feel like they truly care about her, listen to her and give her consideration and respect. It has absolutely been a wonderful experience having all of these people visit my mom. You can tell they love their jobs.”

While the Legacy Bear has provided Eileen’s family with an immeasurable gift, they would say the same for the care team. “Hospice has been absolutely professional, caring, loving and respectful. My mom has been blessed by the people from hospice. There is no amount of gifts or money that I could give them. It means a lot to our family and she deserves it. It eases my mind when I am at work. I want people to know how grateful we are for the teddy bear, but also the care. They have been Godsends.”

It’s the generosity of volunteers like Judy and the rest of the Busy Needles Sewing Group, as well as those who donate supplies for the Legacy Bears, and the dedication of the professionals who come into patients’ homes to provide care, that make hospice and end-of-life moments so sacred and special.

Supporting the legacy project

If you wish to contribute sewing materials to the Busy Needles Sewing Group, donations can be dropped off at the front desk of any of these three locations during the office hours of 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday: 

  • Fort Wayne – 1900 Carew St, Suite 6, Fort Wayne, IN 46805
  • Huntington – 2806 Theater Ave, Huntington, IN 46750
  • Kendallville – 1836 Ida Red Rd, Kendallville, IN 46755

To learn more about ways you can give to the Parkview Foundation, to support efforts and programs like the Legacy Bears, visit


Related Blog Posts

View all posts