Gratitude for the Life and Work of Gary Kielhofner

Ten years ago, Bob Pfeiffer, then CEO of Alexian Brothers Bonaventure House, wrote a letter of support to Gary Kielhofner, Professor of Occupational Therapy (OT) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).   Pfeiffer’s letter promised to fund a full-time OT position at Bonaventure House. UIC would provide the OT.  The year 2000 thus marked the beginning of OT services at Bonaventure House.  The innovative collaboration that began ten years ago with Gary Kielhofner, Bob Pfeiffer, and Brent Braveman – also a Professor of OT at UIC and a board member of Bonaventure House – has helped define and enrich the agency’s vision of holistic services.

Sadly, Gary Kielhofner died a few weeks ago at age 61, after a short battle with an aggressive cancer.   He was one of the world’s leading figures in the field of occupational therapy and taught at UIC for over twenty years.

Gary Kielhofner taught his students to see the uniqueness of each individual, to see their strengths and potential, and to let them lead their own process of healing and growth.   His sister said, “He could see the possibilities in things and people that no one else did.”

Kielhofner’s legacy is very much alive at Bonaventure House – and at The Harbor, where we now have a part-time OT as well.   Brent Braveman sent Bonaventure its first OT intern, Veronica Llerena, who went on to serve as our first full-time OT staff from 2001-2004.  Thereafter, Brent assisted us in choosing two other fine OTs, Brad Egan and Marisa Joseph, who were also dedicated to practicing OT in a community-based setting.  Brad, who has been at Bonaventure House since 2004, remarked after Gary’s death that Gary was to OT what Jane Addams was to social work.

Bonaventure House and The Harbor are fortunate to have a talented multidisciplinary team of professional and paraprofessional case managers, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and spiritual care staff.  Our occupational therapists are a vital part of that team.  They remind us daily of what Gary Kielhofner taught… to see each person’s strengths, to let them lead, and to imagine each one’s possibilities.

We are grateful for Gary Kielhofner’s legacy and mourn his untimely death.   We will continue to integrate his vision of OT into our own Alexian vision of holistic services for those whom we are called to serve.

UIC is holding a special event celebrating Gary’s life on Monday, September 27, 11:30-1:00pm, at the Student Center West, 828 S. Wolcott.   All are welcome.

Click here for the Chicago Sun-Times obituary and here for the Chicago Tribune obituary.

Marty Hansen is the Director of Programs and Services for Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry.

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