There were times when Dick McGee would get agitated, which was very uncharacteristic for him. But that’s what Alzheimer’s disease does. It ravages the brain and makes you not you.

When that happened, Julie Benecke was there with a soothing voice and a smile to calm McGee down. Mike McGee, Dick’s son, would leave visits with his father at Bedside Manor in Oakland and need to compose himself in his car before driving away.

“The way she handled it was fantastic. She would say ‘Coach, let’s go for a walk.’ She never raised her voice. She always called him Coach,” McGee said. “It takes a special person to do that. Julie was called to this.”

Dick McGee died in February, but his last months were made infinitely better by the care he received at Bedside Manor, which is owned and operated by Benecke and her brother, Edward Fabian.

“It totally changed his life,” McGee said. “We saw a big change in him and we can’t thank Julie and her family enough.”

On Friday, Benecke was inducted into the Thomas College Athletic Hall of Fame for her success as a basketball and softball player at Thomas. On the court, she was the third woman to score 1,000 points for the Terriers. On the diamond, Benecke earned all-district honors as a center fielder.

When pressed to recall a few highlights of her career in either sport, Benecke drew a blank.

“It’s not about me. I scored 1,000 points because I got great passes from my teammates. I always just went out there and played. One game was just as important as another,” Benecke said. “I couldn’t even find any of my (Thomas) stuff.”

Don’t get Benecke wrong. She knows she earned a spot in the Hall of Fame and is extremely gracious and grateful for the opportunity she had to play two sports at the school. She transferred to Thomas after a rough first year at the University of Southern Maine. Thomas, close to home and smaller, was a better fit, she said.

Benecke’s best fit now is helping families like the McGees through the very difficult and hard to understand world of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Benecke’s passion for caring for people with the disease comes from her painful personal experience.

Benecke watched her mother, Martha Fabian, succumb to Alzheimer’s over three years. When it became unsafe for her mother to live on her own, Benecke and her brothers moved her to an assisted living facility. The family had a bad experience with the first facility, which led to the birth of Bedside Manor, the family run Alzheimer’s and dementia care facilities.

The first Bedside Manor opened on Belgrade Road in Oakland three years ago. Recently, a second home, Bedside Manor East, opened on Country Club Road in Oakland. The homes promote socialization to try to promote mental stimulation. Martha Fabian died in February, just a few days before Dick McGee. Benecke and her family continue helping Alzheimer’s patients and their families in her memory.

“It’s a passion,” Benecke said. “It’s what you’re supposed to do for family.”

Although Bedside Manor is her focus these days, Benecke hasn’t abandoned sports, particularly basketball. She enjoyed coaching her daughter, Bri, who is now a guard on her eighth grade team. Although Benecke was a 6-foot tall terror in the low post, she sees parts of her game in her daughter.

“She sticks her tongue out like I did. She’s got a drive. She’s got more of a drive than I ever had,” Benecke said.

McGee, who coached boys basketball at Lawrence High School for 31 years before retiring in 2013, remembers Benecke as a tenacious basketball player at Messalonskee High School.

“She played like a guy,” McGee said. “I admired the way she played the game with such intensity.”

On Thursday, Benecke was thinking about the speech she would deliver at Friday night’s induction ceremony. She would make it about her Thomas teams.

“I had great fundamentals and I had great coaches and teammates,” Benecke said. “This honor is really a reflection on all of them.”

Benecke said when she coaches her daughter’s teams, she’s coaching them less on basketball and more on life.

“You’re coaching them to be good teammates, to be good people,” she said.

That’s the attitude that’s made Benecke’s work with Bedside Manor so important, and so appreciated.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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