Brotherly love: Fulton Center resident gives sister gift far greater than picture frame

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing resident John Angus holds the gift he made for his sister Ann Vogel, a breast cancer survivor, as a “thank you” for all of her clothes donations to the Gloversville-based health care facility on Thursday.

GLOVERSVILLE – Ann Vogel still remembers the coffee can filled with change that her younger brother brought to donate to her first Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk seven years ago. John Angus drove it up from North Carolina after finding out his big sister was diagnosed.

The tumor was caught very early – Stage 1 Level 1 – but he was still ready to be there and do anything to help.

Vogel, who lives in Pittstown – where they grew up, also recalls that the man who arrived with a gift to fight the all-too-common disease in hand was in several battles of his own.

Angus, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, was not in a good place in 2015, according to his sister. So, when Vogel saw a picture of the framed, decorated cancer survivor T-shirt Angus made for her recently at Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, where he has lived since the summer of 2019, she called it “heartwarming” and something she will cherish.

The shirt was created from one of many clothing pieces Vogel has donated to the center since her brother moved in. Having worked with nursing homes through her work in the St. Peter’s Health Partners’ continuing care division for 30 years, she instantly saw a need in Gloversville when visiting her brother. She said her family doesn’t have a lot, but anything can make a difference. Recently, she came across a batch from years of October fundraising walks in Albany’s Washington Park.

“I had many, many breast cancer shirts, because I’m a breast cancer survivor,” she said. “So I cleaned out a bunch of stuff and, you know, I see some of the residents when I walked through, to visit [John] or to bring him home for the day. And when I bring him back, and I see what some of them have.”

The giving gene is not solely in Vogel. Angus is the donation distributor, and then some. Recreation Director Lona Bleyl, a two-time breast cancer survivor herself who encouraged Angus to make the gift, calls him the “residents’ advocate.”

Spend any amount of time with the 51-year-old and he can rattle off a half-dozen residents from across the 176-bed facility, a story about how they met, a part of his daily routine with them or some way a donation has impacted their life.

There’s Bob. Angus will tie his boots.

And Ellie on A unit – they raise two fingers to their eyes as if to say, “I’m watching you.”

Then, Angus decorates his unit for every holiday. It helps residents like Mr. McMillan keep track of what time of year it is.

After two years, Angus has done plenty of donating from his own clothes, too.

“Some of them don’t have anybody,” Angus said. “So, you know, as long as I can stop and put a smile on their face by saying ‘Good morning. Hello.’ Tease them a little, you know, ‘Is that my shirt? I was wondering where I left that.’ That’s what makes the world of difference — brightens their day, in mind. And they don’t forget, you know.”

The care Angus shows to his fellow residents – making sure they have blankets, proper clothes and more – amazes his older sister. Vogel, the oldest of six siblings with a single parent, is 11 years older than Angus, the second youngest. She took him in full time when he was 16, creating a particularly strong bond between them.

“John has come so far, I can’t even express to you how far he has come and how happy I am that he’s happy, and that he’s in a happy place,” Vogel said. 

Vogel is grateful to Angus’s team at the Fulton Center, and Bleyl is one person in particular. Angus entered the center less than a year before the coronavirus pandemic threw visiting nursing home facilities into flux and Vogel, working with nursing homes during the pandemic herself, was still getting to know her brother’s facility. The recreation department’s by-appointment, one-on-one visitations for residents were a chance to see the inside. Bleyl also stayed late so Vogel could visit because the St. Peter’s employee worked on their St. Mary’s campus in Troy, 90 minutes away, and couldn’t come until after work.

That generosity was recognized and soon the more personal visits revealed the women’s deeper connection.

“I was so appreciative of that,” Vogel said of the extra time Bleyl stayed. “And that’s when I learned that she was a breast cancer survivor and I just I think it was easy for me to bond with her because I think she’s more like me, she’s a fighter, and she didn’t let it keep her down, you know, she just pushed ahead. And I mean, you know, she flourished.”

Bleyl’s second fight with breast cancer was during the pandemic. Her last radiation treatment was March 11, 2021. When Vogel came to visit Angus, the two female fighters would share stories.

“It only took one visit with her,” Bleyl said. “It just feels like the sisterhood that, you know, you get somebody that’s going, that went through the same thing that you did, and you know exactly what they went through.”

Angus jumps right in to mention that his sister will ask him to pass along a question to Bleyl from time to time. Their fight bonds them but so does Angus, a fighter himself. Vogel is proud, and so is Bleyl. She wishes she could hire him to work with her because of his focus on seeking out the residents struggling the most to come out of their shell when they arrive.

“I’ll take the toughest woman there is or man on any one of the units and it’s like I set it up to make it a point to break through to them, you know what I mean, to get them to turn around and smile, and be happy,” Angus said.

His fights will keep the Fulton Center his home and he is happy about that, according to Vogel. So, consider him part of Bleyl’s team.

That’s a gift to everyone.

Reach Andrew Pugliese at [email protected] or 518-915-0499. Follow on Twitter @ByPugs.

By Andrew Pugliese

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