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Network Health Blog

Paying it Forward

Ray playing pool

“You have to do something about this.” Those words from his wife, Joy, were all the motivation Ray Zuelke needed to get more involved in one of their favorite organizations, the Thompson Community Center. With heavy hearts, they had learned in late 2015 that the senior center on College Avenue in Appleton was closing its doors due to operating costs. It was one of the Combined Locks couple’s favorite places to spend time, enjoying their hobbies and the company of other seniors.

Both Network Health members, Ray and Joy are invested in the community they have called home for 50 years. As they retired and faced some serious health concerns, they discovered the Thompson Community Center by attending an informational seminar on social security and Medicare. That session led them to discover Network Health and a new network of friends at the center. Ray is an avid billiards player, and Joy loves a good game of Sheepshead. There were groups already meeting each week to do both, so they joined in.
With the closing of the Thompson Center on the horizon, Ray, along with members of the Thompson Community Center Civic League and volunteers, set about finding a new home for the activities, and the St. Bernadette Parish offered the vacant space that previously housed St. Bernadette Parish School. The classrooms could accommodate the different activities, the gym and cafeteria offered space for larger gatherings, and the elevator made it easy to navigate.

With some rezoning of the space and the addition of a full-time operations coordinator, the Thompson Center on Lourdes was launched in April of 2016. Today, Ray serves on the board of directors for the soon-to-be non-profit which plans to operate as an independent 501(c)3 nondenominational organization. His passion for helping his fellow seniors connect and thrive helps drive the group forward. He also serves on the regional Long-Term Task Force Focusing on the Needs of Older Adults, which is bringing organizations together to form a stronger support network for seniors living in the Fox Cities region.

The Thompson Center on Lourdes is developing a ten-year plan to sustain the organization and continue expanding activities for seniors. As someone involved in the task force, Ray is confident that the center will be a part of and complement efforts that develop in the Fox Cities.

The center is now open to seniors Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Ray is proud to say that participants didn’t miss a single day of activities, even with the change in location and operations. Each week, an estimated 375 local seniors attend activities, ranging in age from 50 to 100+.

There are groups for a wide variety of interests, ranging from bingo to crochet, from line dancing to potlucks to woodcarving, just to name a few. The center hosts educational opportunities, including Apple iPad basics, computer courses, Spanish and even health-themed workshops like Living Well with Chronic Conditions and
Stepping On Falls Prevention. Jenny Craanen, the center’s operation coordinator, emphasized that anyone is welcome to stop in and check out the facility and the activities. Most activities cost $2, and for the community health courses, Network Health may be able to reimburse registration fees for Medicare members.

Most importantly, the center has opportunities for seniors to socialize, become part of a peer group and continue learning. Jenny stresses that it’s an open arms community, with no need to register in advance or pay a membership fee. She testified that, “Some people come in not knowing how to play a certain card game or how to crochet very well. The people here welcome them, help them, support them and teach them, and eventually we see those same people paying it forward.”

For Ray and Joy, the camaraderie is irreplaceable, saying, “If you’re gone for a few days, people notice, and they care enough to give you a call.” The Zuelkes learned the important role a strong support network can play in helping a person maintain their health and quality of life. In 2003, Joy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. Then, after achieving remission, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Later, she underwent a series of surgeries to replace three discs in her neck and repair her vocal chords.

After two years of not speaking, Joy powered through voice therapy in 2015, which has allowed her to once again socialize with ease. Ray is obviously in awe of Joy and her recovery. “What we take for granted–totally for granted–every breath, every syllable, every vowel. She had to learn it all over again.”

One of the toughest chapters of their lives was their journey with breast cancer. Joy scheduled a routine preventive mammogram, and her doctor discovered a lump. The diagnosis, although early, was especially daunting for the couple because one of their three daughters, Michelle, had passed away in 1999 at age 33 from the disease. The thought of another round of chemo, radiation and losing her hair for a second time was disheartening. But in their words, Joy and Ray were determined to show their two surviving daughters that breast cancer can be beaten. Ray says, “Joy wanted to be a role model for them, to show that you survive and go on. You never give up.”

Today, Joy is cancer free, speaking with ease and thankful for every moment she shares with family and friends. You’ll find her busy planning her week around cards at the Thompson Center on Lourdes and babysitting her grandchildren. She’s quick to show smiling pictures of her two grandsons and her two-year-old granddaughter. She’s looking forward to the birth of a second granddaughter this spring.

In their spare time, Ray and Joy enjoy seeing performances
at the Fox Cities P.A.C., caring for their “dream home” in Combined Locks and spending time at their summer home on Shawano Lake. Ray is an environmental advocate, helping helping to improve the water quality of the lake their family loves year-round. You’ll also find the couple at the YMCA, taking advantage of their SilverSneakers benefit. Ray says, “The time we spend together walking on the track, we cherish. It’s warm in the winter, and air conditioned in the summer. We look forward to going to the Y together.”

After 52 years of marriage, Ray and Joy can almost finish each other’s sentences. When asked the secret to Joy’s recovery and their health, they credit taking control, researching and educating themselves on the conditions and the importance of open communication with their doctors. And acknowledge the importance of an active lifestyle, staying engaged with their community and their strong faith. And, they also appreciate the value of their Network Health Medicare Advantage Plan, which has been a part of their lives since they were eligible for Medicare.
With everything they’ve been through, the Zuelkes need a good insurance partner. “Network Health is a simple choice for us. Health insurance has a high potential to be a nightmare, but it wasn’t for us. Never once. We always checked ahead of time for peace of mind, but that was one stress we didn’t have to worry about.” They continue to work with their doctors, both in- and out-of-network, without issue. They recently changed their primary care doctor and found a good fit with a ThedaCare physician. They wondered if they would have any issues moving to a ThedaCare doctor, but Joy had a positive experience.

When she arrived for her appointment, “They said right away, don’t worry about it. You’re covered.” Ray says, “It’s easy to keep busy in retirement. You need something meaningful, and for me that was volunteering—if you can make a difference.” Ray smiles at Joy, “I can barely keep up with her.” With their health concerns covered by Network Health, Ray and Joy are free to focus on what matters most to them—their family, friends and the community they have helped grow at the Thompson Center on Lourdes.




  1.  Hayley Peebles says:

    It’s great to hear that Joy has overcome to many health obstacles! Wonderful that they are taking time to enjoy retirement.

  2.  Andy says:

    So glad to partner with healthy, growing members of the community.

  3.  Joan Brown says:

    Great positive article. Thank you for everything you do for the Appleton area senior community and for Shawano Lake.

  4.  Carol Hirn says:

    Another example of working to improve the wellness, health and futures of our members!!

  5.  Brittney Mlada says:

    Nice to hear from some folks close to home! Thank you for sharing your experience with Network Health~!

  6.  Jean Trochta says:

    What a great couple. Loved the story

  7.  Kristy says:

    So glad they were able to continue with their same continued care with out the worry of in and our of network providers. Network Health did a great job resolving the Thedacare issue and doing what was best for members. This couple will have the care they need and many more great years to enjoy their hobbies. Thanks Network Health.

  8.  Nancy says:

    What a positive impact you’ve both been on our community! Congratulations, and Thank you!

  9.  Hannah says:

    Great story! Sounds like their positivity towards others came back to then tenfold. What a wonderful way to spend retirement.

  10.  Penny Koehler says:

    What a great accomplishment keeping the senior center going!

  11.  Laurie Dietzen says:

    Great couple! Great information on the Thompson Center on Lourdes. I was not aware of that.

  12.  Stacy Schwandner says:

    What a nice story! They are an inspiration to us all.

  13.  Chelsy Lingenhag says:

    What a truly inspiring and remarkable story. Its great to see how they are making a difference in our community.

  14.  Jacki says:

    So many powerful messages throughout their story. Thank you so much for sharing!

  15.  Peggy Murphy says:

    Great article and I am very grateful that there remains a place for seniors like the Thompson Center on Lourdes. It was a great loss to the community when the Thompson Center closed before so kudos to those who volunteer and make things happen for the benefit of others!

Comments are closed.

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