The Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support (fondly called MCDES, that is “McDess”) began in 1977 as the Minnesota Coalition for Terminal Care. The initial purpose was to coordinate the emerging efforts among professionals and volunteers in the areas of death, dying and grief. Minnesota was playing a leading role nationally in this new movement and we needed a way to talk to each other about what we were doing, learning and teaching. Many efforts - at the University of Minnesota, (Robert Slater, Robert Fulton, John Brantner, Howard Bell & Ida Martinson), Hamline University (Betty Green & Donald Irish), North Memorial Hospital (Judi Johnson & Pat Norby), Mount Sinai Hospital (Gail Noller), Bethesda Hospital (Carmian Seifert) - were occurring with minimal knowledge of each other. The first conference was scheduled at Fairview Lutheran Deaconess Hospital (now gone) for June 10, 1977 and 40 invitations were sent. 77 people showed up to hear reports of the variety of efforts related to death and dying currently launched in the Twin Cities.
Thus MCDES got its start. It grew into an organization that was a unifying force in the competitive health care environment of the Twin Cities. It helped spawn the first hospices in the Twin Cities and led to the birthing of the Minnesota Hospice Organization in 1980 (aka, Hospice Minnesota), now known as the Minnesota Network for Hospice & Palliative Care (MNHPC). MCDES has been and continues to be a voluntary organization led by a working board of volunteers, serving our members who work with dying and grieving persons. Its hallmark is high quality, full day, reasonably priced spring and fall conferences that feature national speakers. In addition, regular newsletters have kept alive the network of those working in the field.
MCDES helped sponsor the National Hospice Organization's Sixth Annual Meeting/Ninth Annual Symposium in 1983 at the newly opened Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis, where 1500 people from around the world convened to cheer the announcement of the newly passed Medicare Hospice Benefit and to learn more about death and dying over the five-day conference. Gail Noller, a MCDES founder and long time Board member, served as the local chair of the national gathering.
In 1993 MCDES funded the publishing of the book, Death, Dying and Bereavement: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, one of the earliest books to look at this issue, based on one of the organization's conferences. It is still available from Taylor-Francis Publishers.
MCDES has had a very dedicated membership and leadership. Currently led by Chair Ben Wolfe, Administrative Assistant Verla Johansson, and an all-volunteer Board of Directors, it is as vital and effective as it has ever been. The organization has been flexible and has adjusted to changes in “best practices,” but has stayed true to its commitment to offer high quality education and networking for professionals and volunteers who provide care for dying and grieving persons and their families.