Brenda, Phil & Jesse Luensmann
Written by Lisa Ledwith
In 2001, Brenda and Phil Luensmann sat in their Dubuque, Iowa living room, talking about life after retirement. Phil pulled out a Colorado map and spotted Salida. They visited for a week; before the trip ended, they owned a house. On June 30th, 2003, Phil retired from John Deere. By the 4th of July, they were living in their Salida home.
The Luensmanns live with Jesse, their adult son with special needs, and services for him were their number one priority. Starpoint, Salida’s organization supporting adults with cognitive and physical challenges, made it possible for the Luensmanns to live here. Through Starpoint, Jesse got a job at Brad’s Automotive. They took weekly walks at Sand’s Lake, cleaned the parks and bowled with friends. He was happy. “Jesse loves to work. I can’t stress that enough. He’s a hard worker–he’s always wanting to help.” With Covid, everything changed. All Starpoint programs were suspended and Jesse couldn't grasp why his life changed so suddenly. Every morning he asked, “Am I going to work? What am I going to do today?” Brenda took Jesse on walks and they picked up trash by the highways. She says, ““There are times I just want to crawl in bed but…you know. It doesn’t matter how tired we are. We have to keep him occupied.” If Jesse has work, he’s up early. If not, he’s sad and sometimes stays in bed past noon.
These days, the world is opening back up, but Starpoint is struggling. “Things have spiraled downward as far as services,” says Brenda. Services are dependent on Starpoint employment, which took a hit during Covid. They’ve advertised and raised salaries but Brenda says, “Part of the problem is the housing–employees can’t afford to live here.” Jesse is currently with Starpoint 4 hours a week. He’s back at Brad’s, a job he’s held for 19 years, and is excited about collecting golf balls on the greens this summer. Brenda knows services could end. “Even if it lasts two months, that’s two months that Jesse got to do something outside of being with us.” Jesse loves bowling. He also enjoys fishing and walking. Jesse turns 50 this year, and the family is headed to Las Vegas for a Garth Brooks concert.
As we talk about it, Jesse jumps up in his seat, smiling and yelling “Garth Brooks!” Eventually it will be harder to care for Jesse, but Phil and Brenda will cross that bridge when they come to it. Brenda smiles and looks at her son. “It’s all about Jesse. It’s been that way for 50 years.”