Annual New Year’s Eve farolitos on Plaza benefit Hospice Center

The Hospice Center, a nonprofit program of Presbyterian Medical Services, will celebrate 25 years of hospice care in Santa Fe with its annual Light Up a Life farolito fundraiser on the Santa Fe Plaza in memory of lost loved ones. Natalie Guillen/New Mexican file photo

Joyce Stark’s husband took care of her during the last 15 years of her life as she slowly succumbed to a type of dementia. But as the illness became worse, he needed help.

Bill Stark, 79, turned to The Hospice Center, a local nonprofit organization that provides in-home services for people near death and their families.

“It kept me from putting my wife into a facility,” Bill Stark said.

The Hospice Center is managed by the Presbyterian Medical Services and is run by volunteers. On New Year’s Eve, the organization will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with its annual Light Up a Life fundraiser on the Santa Fe Plaza.

During the ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, attendees will light farolitos dedicated to loved ones who have passed away. Members of the public can buy farolitos for $20 each, mark them with the names of their loved ones and personalize them at the event. All proceeds will go to The Hospice Center. Farolitos can be pre-ordered online at pmsnm.org.

The proceeds gathered at the event will help “cover costs of hospice care for those most in need,” the organization said.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján are scheduled to speak at the event, which includes music and a sing-along.

The festivities are “solemn but celebratory,” the organization said in a news release.

Stark said the services his wife received from The Hospice Center — which included bathing, speech therapy and feeding assistance — were “a great relief.”

“I just wanted to keep her home,” he said.

His wife’s disease started 15 years ago, when the couple retired and moved from New York City to Santa Fe. Stark said his wife would complain about in being in physical pain and started feeling paranoid. Later, a neurologist diagnosed her with frontotemporal dementia, a disease that progressively degenerates part of the brain, causing a person to lose the ability to speak and potentially causing severe behavioral changes.

“When the doctor told me that I was in for a long haul, I didn’t realize he meant 15 years,” Stark said.

Stark had worked as a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years before moving to Santa Fe. His retirement gave him the time to care for his wife, a retired economic researcher, he said.

There was a time a few years ago in which Stark thought his wife was going to die, so he called Hospice Center volunteers to help him prepare. But those were false alarms. In August, her condition declined, and once again he called The Hospice Center. Volunteers spent two days with Stark and his wife.

“I held her hand all night,” Stark said as he held back tears. “It was just a wonderful way to go. It was just so peaceful.”

He said he and his wife were fortunate because Medicare paid for his wife’s Hospice Center services. Thursday’s event will help gather funds so the center can assist those who can’t afford the service or don’t have health insurance to pay for it, he said.

The Hospice Center served 480 patients and their families in 2014. On average, it costs about $177 a day to care for a patient, according to the organization.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.