December 13, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Room name honors Wassmuth

New facility to recall founding member of hospice
Carl Gidlund

(Full-size photo)

More information

For additional information on Hospice of North Idaho, the Hospice House or proposed Wassmuth Room, call (208) 772-7994 or go to the Hospice Web site:

The memory of “Father Bill,” as he was known, will be honored when Hospice of North Idaho dedicates the Bill Wassmuth Prayer and Meditation Room in its $3.2 million hospice house to be built on Prairie Avenue in Coeur d’Alene next year.

Paul Weil, executive director of hospice, said a drive is under way to collect $100,000 for the room, to be named for the former Roman Catholic priest who was one of 17 North Idaho residents who founded the organization here in 1981. He was also a leader in the fight against the Aryan Nations and other hate groups.

Wassmuth was 61 when he died in 2002 in Ellensburg, Wash., after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A native of Greencreek, Idaho, he graduated from St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, Wash., and after serving in Caldwell, McCall and Boise, he was assigned to St. Pius X Church in Coeur d’Alene in 1979.

“While he was building his church to double its size to 800, he worked in the community as well,” according to Dexter Yates, another of the original members of the Hospice of North Idaho board.

“Bill was very charismatic, a natural leader, and that was one of the reasons he was the first board president,” Yates said.

Two other founding members of Hospice of North Idaho, Realtor Marshall Mend and retired educator Tony Stewart, will help with fundraising for the Wassmuth room.

“We’re going to try to get other people involved,” Mend said. “As far as I’m concerned, they ought to dedicate the whole building to Bill.”

Stewart called the naming of the room “Very appropriate. He dealt so well with the sick and dying.”

In September 1986, Wassmuth’s home was bombed, and soon after, three other bombs were detonated in Coeur d’Alene. No one was injured, but Aryan Nations members were convicted of the bombings.

Soon after, he left the priesthood and moved to Seattle, where he married and founded the Northwest Coalition against Malicious Harassment, now known as the Northwest Association for Human Dignity, a five-state organization.

He was later instrumental in bringing legal action that, in 2000, led to a $6.2 million judgment against the Aryan Nations, causing its bankruptcy.

Although Wassmuth’s name has been honored in several areas for his human rights work, such as a lecture series and awards for volunteerism, this will be the first physical space that will bear his name, according to his widow, Mary Frances.

An artist who now lives in Silver City, N.M., she called her late husband’s newest honor “perfect.”

“After Bill contracted ALS, hospice became part of our life,” she said. “The services the organization provided permitted him to live and die with dignity.

“His goal was to serve the North Idaho community’s physical and spiritual lives, and I know that’s what the new room will do.”

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