Special person, special journey

IT just seems fitting that Ben Ranck’s last hours would be in the Our Hospice of South Central Indiana Inpatient Facility. In a way, he died at home.

The 88-year-old Columbus physician passed away Nov. 30 in one of the rooms of a building dedicated to easing life’s final stages for patients and their loved ones.

Ranck was instrumental in the planning and development of the facility and remained an integral part of its operation almost to the end of his life. Equally important, he was one of a handful of local caregivers and supporters who brought the hospice philosophy to Bartholomew County and its neighbors 35 years ago.

In that time span, the Columbus-based operation has served thousands of patients through the last stages of various illnesses and eased the burden of caregiving on their loved ones. It has drawn universal praise for the care and dedication of staff members, particularly from the families served.

Those staff members had a good role model — Dr. Benjamin Ranck. He came to the hospice movement at a late stage in his career, one that had been centered on bringing life into the world and sustaining it through the years that followed.

He began his medical career in Columbus in 1959 partnering with Dr. Charles Rau, with whom he had interned at Memorial Hospital in Gary and taken classes at the Indiana University School of Medicine. They had taken over the practice of Dr. Bill Wissman and in the years that followed had become identified in the community by the partnership they had formed with Forest Daugherty — Ranck, Rau and Daugherty.

That practice consumed most of their time, but in 1979 Ranck baegan a journey into a field that would be a defining element in his life. He was asked to participate in a meeting with local caregivers to discuss the possibility of bringing the hospice philosophy to Bartholomew County.

“They had already been meeting when I decided to find out more about the movement,” he recalled in a 2009 conversation. “To be honest, I knew very little about hospice, and I don’t think I was alone. The process turned out to be a learning experience for all of us.”

There were still doubts after that first meeting, but over a period of time he became an advocate.

“I came to realize that we as physicians were seldom with our patients when they died,” he said in that interview. “We might see them through their treatment, but often we’d get a call from someone at the hospital telling us that our patient had died. That was it. We had been focused on keeping them alive.”

Sold on the hospice philosophy, Ranck became one of its leading advocates. He walked the walk in that advocacy, becoming the local center’s first medical director. It was a role he was destined to play until he decided to step back from full-time duties in 2008, but that was only a partial step because he continued to work with individual patients and their families as a certified hospice and palliative care physician.

To his patients and those he worked with, Ranck came across as more than a physician.

Lisa McHone, a nurse practitioner at Our Hospice, said, “His approach is not just around the physical care of the patient but their emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being. He listens with understanding to patients and families and also to the staff and volunteers. He has made a difference in more lives than I can count.”

The family member of one of his patients recalled a conversation with Ranck. “He told me it was a privilege to work with patients and their families at a very personal and intimate time in their lives. His words were very calming, and it was evident that he was convinced that what he and others were doing at Our Hospice was absolutely the right thing to do for those on the final steps of their journey.”

Sandy Carmichael, who co-founded and served as director of Our Hospice from 1980 until 2013, provided a simple answer for Ranck’s success. “I think the real key is that he listens.”

His practice wasn’t limited to any one medical facility. More often than not he saw his patients in their homes because most hospice patients elect to receive treatment where they had lived most of their lives. It was a choice that he supported. “It levels the playing field for the patient,” he recalled in 2009. “The center is another choice that is available to our patients, but home is best.”

In many ways, the Our Hospice facility was a second home to Ranck, not the building so much as the people within it.

He and his wife, Esther, had started a tradition more than 20 years ago of presenting a single rose to each woman attending the annual Our Hospice recognition dinner. In 2013, the board of directors of Our Hospice returned the favor, designating that the facility’s rose garden located just off the dining room be named in his honor.

The staff plan to continue the tradition Ben and Esther Ranck started in 1993. It’s their way of remembering a very special person.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be at harry@therepublic.com.

If you go

A celebration of life memorial service for Dr. Benjamin Ranck will be held a 1 p.m. Dec. 19 at First United Methodist Church, 618 Eighth St., Columbus.

Rev. Howard Boles will officiate.

Memorials in Dr. Ranck’s honor can be made to the First United Methodist Church Missions or Our Hospice of South Central Indiana.