Family Bond in Frankenmuth

Growing up in the 1960s, Pam Hegarty recalls, she faced very negative attitudes about her younger brother Doug and other people with developmental disabilities, which often were hard for her to ignore.  

“When I was younger, it was difficult for me, at times, to share with my friends that I had a brother with a disability,” says the 61-year-old. “I never attended the same school as Doug, so some of my friends didn’t even know I had a brother. The R-word was quite popular and really upset me.  

“As I look back, I think it was easier not to talk about Doug than deal with the scrutiny and ignorant comments.”   

These days, however, she couldn’t be prouder of Doug, who lives in a Bethesda group home in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  

Pam describes Doug, a 59-year-old born in Buffalo, New York, who has lived with Bethesda since he was 26, as friendly and outgoing.  

“Everyone he meets is a friend because he always remembers people, especially those who go out of their way to be kind to him,” she says. “He can tell you the name and address of every neighbor on the street where he grew up. Doug has an amazing memory.” 

Since the death of their parents, Pam serves as Doug’s co-guardian with her husband, Chuck. The Hegartys live about two hours away from Frankenmuth in Grand Rapids. 

“My mom lived in Frankenmuth for almost 20 years and saw Doug regularly,” she says. “I live two hours from Doug so seeing him regularly takes a little more effort. I try to visit Doug the first Monday of the month. We go shopping, out to lunch and go to the movies. At that time, I  make sure he has what he needs. I also try to bring him to my home for a few days several times a year.”    

To stay connected, Pam chats with Doug every Sunday on the phone. It can be difficult to balance her commitment to Doug with her family’s needs, Pam says, but the sense of family her younger brother receives in his support from Bethesda helps to ease her mind.   

“I do my best but it is such a comfort knowing that Doug is so well cared for,” she says. “I feel that the people who share his home and staff in Frankenmuth are our family’s extended family as well as Doug’s.”  

Read more about Bethesda’s group home in Frankenmuth, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary.



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