Golden Hoosier Award
To nominate someone for the Golden Hoosier Award, the nominee must:
•Be 65 or older as of Jan. 1.
•Have completed at least three years of volunteer service after his or her 60th birthday.
•Be a resident of Indiana.
For more information, email GoldenHoosiers@fssa.IN.gov; call 1-317-232-1700; or write to: Golden Hoosier Awards, C/O Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, 402 W. Washington St., Room W353, MS39, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
Elaine Cowen was surprised by the call from the lieutenant governor's office.
The New Haven woman had just learned she was one of the 2012 Golden Hoosier Award recipients, recognized for her volunteer services to Indiana residents in need.
On Aug. 14, she traveled to the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, where she and other Golden Hoosiers were honored at a special ceremony. The event included a luncheon, a demonstration by a branch of the Potawatomi American Indian nation, and presentation of the award to each winner by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.
According to the Golden Hoosier Award nomination guidelines, “The ideal recipient is considered an unsung hero who has not received previous recognition for the impact they have made in the lives of others and the community.” In hearing Cowen's life story, this is an apt description of her career.
Cowen was born on the east coast of New Jersey. Her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was 10 years old, and she came to Indiana to start her teaching career at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.
Cowen met her husband, then a law student, in Indianapolis. After their marriage, they moved to the Fort Wayne area.
After the birth of her second child here in Fort Wayne, Cowen began teaching nursing at the Purdue program in Fort Wayne.
“We had an associate's degree program — it was a very new program,” Cowen noted. The nursing program, along with the school, grew.
Today, the nursing program is a part of the IPFW campus, and the university now offers bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing. Cowen's role at the campus increased, too, as she became the chair of the nursing department and an associate dean.
But then, Cowen's career focus changed.
“My mother died in Florida in 1976,” Cowen recalled. “At that time, there was almost no home care.”
Her mother had to stay in the hospital during her last days, and the experience had not been good. “I came home determined to get something so people could be at home,” Cowen said.
Hospice care in Fort Wayne was still at an early stage. When Cowen joined the local hospice group, there were four nurses, four volunteers and a paid executive director.
“We did all the case management,” Cowen said. “It was very hard to get doctors to sign (patients) over.”
As time passed, the hospice program in Fort Wayne grew. Parkview Hospital and Lutheran Hospital started their own visiting nurse programs, and greater acceptance was given to the hospice concept.
Over the years, Cowen kept working, both as a nursing instructor and as a hospice caregiver. In 1998, she retired from IPFW. Now, she is a full-time volunteer with Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home.
According to Ann Blue, the volunteer coordinator with Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home, the agency has an in-patient center with 14 beds for the most critical cases. But their services extend to about 150 patients in the community. Cowen cares for patients in the northeast region.
“Not everyone dies!” Cowen exclaimed, when discussing the purpose of her work.
Sometimes, she explained, a person will be discharged from the hospital, and they need some assistance at home. Cowen or another visiting nurse helps that person readjust to life outside the hospital.
Today, patients also do not need a doctor's recommendation to receive hospice care. Anyone, from friends to family, can request the service.
Cowen also serves as a family companion for those closest to a hospice patient.
“Everything is done to make the person and their loved ones comfortable,” she said. “I feel people who are dying fear pain and fear being alone. Hospice is good at controlling pain. … People, for the most part, can be made very comfortable.”
Cowen's caseload generally covers only four or five patients at a time. But Blue noted that Cowen's influence reaches beyond her daily interactions with patients.
“All of our nurses here went through her classes,” Blue said. “(Cowen) kind of gave birth to a generation of nurses in this area.”
As a hospice volunteer, Cowen has limited time for outside activities. In the past, she has been a parish nurse, a Red Cross trainer, a member of the Fort Wayne Board of Health and a helper at Christ's United Methodist Church, which prepared suppers for groups like the Boy Scouts and funeral dinners.
Today, Cowen volunteers with Indiana's Ombudsman Program, which advocates for residents of long-term care facilities, and spends the bulk of her time with the Hospice Home program.
As a winner of the Golden Hoosier award, Cowen also has a new pair of passes to Indiana state parks and a couple of tickets to an Indianapolis IMAX theater. So she has a bit more to schedule into her packed calendar.