CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER
Carolyn White of Mabel volunteers
several days a week at Green Lea
Manor in Mabel where she visits
with residents and leads Bible
study. She utilizes her hospice
training to help the residents who
are nearing the end of their lives.
CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER Carolyn White of Mabel volunteers several days a week at Green Lea Manor in Mabel where she visits with residents and leads Bible study. She utilizes her hospice training to help the residents who are nearing the end of their lives.
Sometimes when life slams the door hard, right in your face, if you look hard enough, another will open. Such was the case for Carolyn (Erlandson) White of Mabel.

Back in 1971, White lost a daughter who was just 22 months old. Less than a year later, she lost a day-old son.

“I started searching. I thought I was being punished for something,” White recalled. She had grown up north of Mabel on a farm and attended Scheie Lutheran Church. Religion had always been an important part in White’s life. But the loss of two children, in that very short span of time, pulled at the very fiber of her spiritual soul.

White enrolled in college when she was in her late 20’s. She majored in psychology and art. While taking psychology classes, she realized something was missing… the spiritual persona everyone possesses. The more she read about the spirituality of mankind, the more she wanted to learn. She started studying religions all over the world. What interested her the most was the hospice program, where people would help others cope with the end of their life existence.

“There just weren’t a lot of people out there willing to help those who were nearing the end of their lives,” White said. “ I really felt that was what I needed to do.”

White went to work more than 30 years ago as a hospice chaplain. During those years she figures she’s been with over 700 hospice patients, who have passed on “to a better place.”

White was forced to face a second set of tragedies 20 years after the death of her two infant children when her brother Steve and father Norris both passed away in rapid succession. Once again, she was saddled with intense grief and felt an even stronger urge to work through it and help others cope with their grief.

In 1990 White started taking seminary classes in Oklahoma. She was ordained as an interfaith minister in 1995.

She worked in a six-bed hospice facility in the Twin Cities for eight years. During this time she taught many classes on grief counseling at the Parish Nurse Institute in Minneapolis. “There is such a need for persons in this area,” she noted.

In 2012, White earned her masters in divinity. Several years later, she decided to leave the hectic pace of the Twin Cities and move back to her hometown.

“I found a great house, right on Main Street, and am so happy to be back home.”

It didn’t take long for White to realize she needed to be busy and the call to help others, especially older folks, continued to grow stronger. One of the things White liked to do for recreation was dancing. And she loved the music of the late ’50 and early ‘60s. She started going to dances in the area featuring the golden oldies group the Memory Brothers. That’s where she met LaVonne Donlan, who works at Green Lea Manor in Mabel.

“When LaVonne found out I’d done grief counseling and had been a hospice minister for many years, she suggested I start volunteering the Green Lea,” White said. “I started out helping with the Bible study and would go around visiting with the various residents. I started doing a one on one visiting with the residents, especially those the staff felt were in need of some help.”

White started out volunteering one day a week. That quickly grew to two days a week and now she’s at the Mabel facility three days most weeks. Besides the one on one counseling and Bible studies, she also helps out with various activities including calling BINGO, helping transport the residents to the honor dinner at the community center and filling in for the area ministers on Friday for the church service, if one can’t make it.

“I just love working with the older folks,” White said with a big smile. “They are so happy and so appreciative when you stop by to visit with them and offer to help them. And they become so honest when they begin to realize that they are in their last days. I’ve learned all kinds of deep truths that many don’t seem to want to discuss with their families.”

When asked what the most rewarding aspect of her volunteering at Green Lea Manor, White replied, “Learning about the people, about their history. It is amazing what you can learn from them, when they open up. I just love being around them,” sh