Greg Theis was in his garage working on the restoration of a Barracuda when he took time out to talk to us about his little sister, Julie.
When Julie was born on February 27, 1958, she was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and also had a hole in her heart. Her parents, Jim and Rosella, had long been wishing for a little girl, so the news that she was not expected to live long was devastating. Julie never let herself be restricted by her doctor’s expectations, however.
Like all parents, Jim and Rosella hoped for as normal a life as possible for her. Julie loved her family. She was cared for by her parents growing up, with help from her four brothers. Her brothers were always quick to defend her when unkind kids teased her. She loved to play with them, and would often sneak up on them and try to “scare” them. Her parents enrolled her in the public school system, but schooling then for special needs children just wasn’t a fit for Julie, so they brought her home and continued to teach her what they could.
As Julie neared her teen years, however, caring for her at home became nearly impossible. Rosella had been diagnosed with diabetes. There was no funding available from government agencies, and she needed 24-hour care. Both Jim and Rosella were working full-time to be able to afford her care, which at the time was a daily babysitter. In addition to her full-time job, Rosella also did typing at night for the courts.
Caring for Julie continued to become more difficult, so her parents enrolled her in a residential program in Faribault. They visited her every weekend, but it was still a financial and emotional struggle for the family. From there, she was transferred to a residential program in Rochester. In the 1980s, they were told of a residential program opening in Winona, and they were thrilled at the possibility of Julie being able to come home. The first group home that Julie stayed in had nearly a dozen residents, as Greg remembers, and the family was very happy when HCO changed the program to have fewer people in each home.
Julie was a long-term resident of the 1031 program, and Greg feels that she was happy there, as well as safe and cared for very well.
Though Julie was non-verbal, she did use sign language. When one of her brothers would come to visit her, she was excited about it all day. She liked to dress up in anticipation of their visits. She was what Greg calls a “typical girl”.
Until a few years ago, Julie worked and took the bus to and from her job. She liked riding in a vehicle so much that she didn’t want to exit the bus at the end of the day.
As her health started to decline, hospice began visiting on a regular basis to monitor her condition. Her brothers no longer got to take her out when they came to visit or to McDonalds (her favorite food was hamburgers). Taking her places often required some planning. When she got tired, Greg said, she would just sit down wherever she was. “It could be the middle of Broadway!” he laughed.
One of Greg’s favorite memories is about a birthday party for one of Julie’s housemates. Julie found where the birthday cake was stashed before the big party and got into it. “She liked to eat,” says Greg. She made such a mess of the cake, another one had to be purchased in a hurry for the birthday party.
Another time, someone from a government agency called and asked to speak with Julie. The person was advised that Julie was non-verbal, but they asked to speak to her nonetheless. Julie was called to the phone, looked at it disinterestedly, and dropped it on the floor. So much for phone calls from the government!
Julie defied doctor’s expectations. She lived a long life with the support of her parents, brothers, and HCO family. Julie Ann Theis died on November 7, 2018, at her home. She has left Greg, as well as many others, with many lasting memories that they will continue to cherish for a lifetime.