Bostrom’s dedication to housing equity, recovery helped many
Maynard “Bo” Bostrom was known as much for his cheerful demeanor and positive outlook as he was for his dedicated advocacy and commitment to others with disabilities. Bostrom died in November. He was 82 and lived in Rochester at Bostrom Terrace, an accessible building named in his honor. He was believed to be Minnesota’s longest living person with quadriplegia at the time of his passing.
Born and raised in the Rochester area in a large family, he dropped out of high school as a sophomore and moved to Texas to work for the Hughes Aircraft Company.
Bostrom’s life was changed 62 years ago. On Thanksgiving Day 1958 he and two friends were traveling into Mexico from Texas. Eighty miles from the border, their vehicle collided with a bus and rolled. Bostrom’s friends sustained superficial injuries. But he had a severe spinal cord injury that resulted in quadriplegia. A door had to be taken off of its hinges and used as a stretcher to carry him to help.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico made arrangements to get Bostrom to the Texas border where a train was waiting to take him to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester.
The accident would start a long period of recovery, and years in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. Bostrom’s life was transformed in 1976 when he went to Courage Center, as one of the first people in the transitional rehabilitation program. He would quickly join a dynamic group of people with disabilities and their allies, who were on the ground floor of an exciting new venture that would provide affordable, accessible living options.
At Courage Center he met another quadriplegic from Austin, Minnesota named Mike “Hondo” Pesch, and Pesch’s friend Stephen Wiggins. They and others would create Accessible Space, Inc. (ASI), a nonprofit organization with the mission to provide wheelchair-accessible housing with 24/7 supportive service for low-income persons with physical disabilities.
The group planned the first accessible, affordable housing with care locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. One memorable day at Courage Center was when Bostrom was part of a group that picked the design for the first home.
When Bostrom left Courage Center in 1978, there were still too few housing and care attendant options. But with planning and fundraising that would change. In September 1980 he moved into Chicago House, one of ASI’s first five new cooperative living homes. He was the home’s first resident and was a founding ASI board member. He would remain on the ASI Board until his death.
The intent of ASI was for residents to gain skills and go on to greater independence. “Working together,” he said in an interview, “we shared stuff so we had a little more pocket change. We all had goals and got along well. We shared the same attendants under one big roof.” Everyone had a say in how the housing was managed.
“This was much different than being in a nursing home,” he said. “It was our house.”
Bostrom became a staunch advocate for independence and barrier-free living. “I know I wouldn’t be around if I hadn’t gotten into a more independent living situation Everyone benefits from it because your health improves. You’re more of a human being. You’re normal, just in a wheelchair. I’m living instead of existing.”
ASI founder Wiggins said of Bostrom, “What a gentleman. He was a big part of why there is an Accessible Space.”
ASI CEO Stephen Vander Schaaf said Bostrom was the main reason why ASI expanded into other states, which came about because of his friendship with another person with quadriplegia. After his accident, Bostrom was at St. Mary’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Rochester. There he struck up a lifelong friendship with Montana native Bruce Blattner. Thirty years later Blattner came back to Minnesota to visit Bostrom and talk about bringing ASI to Missoula. The result was Eagle Watch Estates, a 24- unit, fully accessible, affordable apartment building with services. It opened in January of 1992.
Vander Schaaf noted that Bostrom’s and Blattner’s long friendship led to other individuals, concerned loved ones and advocacy groups approaching ASI to help develop accessible, affordable housing. ASI grew from five homes with care for 30 residents, to serving 4,100 very low-income adults with disabilities, seniors and/or veterans in 162 developments in 31 states.
“Throughout all the challenges and growth Bo was there to keep ASI true to its mission, to those we served, and to those dedicated resident assistants who provide the 24/7/365 compassionate care,” said Vander Schaaf. “He was a gentle mentor, and my good friend who loved to talk about those ‘hot rods” from the ‘50’s, Elvis and bemoan the fate of ‘those Vikings’ … Bo will always be the legacy resident.”
Three days after Bostrom’s death, ASI was notified that it is one of nine nonprofit organizations in the country that had received a HUD Section 811 fund reservation for its accessible, affordable housing development in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Those decisions were announced on a Monday, and we figured Bo, our angelic steward, took the weekend off to get oriented before going right back to work to guide ASI’s good mission forward with a firm resolve and compassionate care,” said Vander Schaaf.
Bostrom was also known for his strong commitment to faith and recovery. He and four other Christian men with disabilities formed Wings Outreach/Wings Ministries, a Twin Cities faith-based nonprofit organization for persons with disabilities. Friends said he “put down a Budweiser and picked up a Bible” in the 1970s and never wavered from his faith and love of the Lord.
He served on the Wings board for 40 years, until his death.
Bostrom was laid to rest beside his parents in Rochester. They and his six older sisters preceded him in death. Memorials are preferred to ASI.
Schneider active in deinstitutionalization
Sheldon R. “Skip” Schneider is remembered for his career in leading many deinstitutionalization efforts. Schneider died in November. He was 87 and most recently lived in the Bayport and Hudson area.
A native of Boyceville, WI, Schneider enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating high school and served in the 82nd Airborne Division. After his return from the service he attended University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
He spent his career working with people with developmental disabilities and mental illness. He was very active in the deinstitutionalization efforts of the 1960s and 1970s. He served as executive director of the Range Center in Chisholm, which provides an array of services and supports for people with disabilities.
Schneider later worked with colleagues to develop human services agencies including Nekton Inc., Bristol Place Corporation Home Health Services, Northern Habilitative Services of Chisholm, and others.
He was preceded in death by his wife and is survived by a son, two daughters, four grandchildren, two sisters and a brother.
Services have been held. Memorials are preferred to Chisholm Community Foundation or to Arc Minnesota.
Relph carried key legislation
Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud) was committed to his constituents with disabilities, and carried key pieces of legislation for advocacy groups. Relph is the first Minnesota state lawmaker to die of complications related to COIVID-19. He was 76 and died in December.
Relph appeared at various disability day rallies at the state capitol. He’d recently lost his bid for re-election. He was elected in 2016. Relph was an attorney, a business owner and a military veteran.
He was among several Republican legislators who contracted COVID-19 after contact with Senate colleagues in November. He missed the final two special sessions of 2020. He was involved in a variety of legislative efforts including health and human services, and pandemic relief.
His wife, Pegi Broker-Relph issued a statement, noting her husband “dedicated his life to service.”
“I can’t count the number of times he would come home at night and tell me about helping solve a constituent’s problem, or a story he heard from someone in a parade or at a public event, or even just someone he met during a ‘day on the hill’ event,” she said. “He loved serving the people of St. Cloud in the Senate, and he cherished every minute of it.”
Many others paid tribute to Relph. He is survived by his wife, children, stepchildren and other family members. Services have been held.