When a good friend is family

Veteran leans on old friend at Fisher House

We are often warmed by the stories of friendships formed while families stay at a Fisher House to be there for their loved ones, but sometimes the friendships in Fisher Houses began long before a veteran needed care.

“If the person that a veteran needs to be by their side is a husband, wife, daughter, son, nephew, aunt, or even a good friend, we will be there for them,” said Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of Fisher House Foundation. “What is most important is having the right person there to support the veteran or military service member so they can focus on getting better.”

Navy veteran Dennis McCluskey, Sr. who served in the early 70s, and Marine Corps veteran Timothy Hughes, who served in the early 80s, met while Dennis was working at a country club, and they’ve remained friends for years.

In 2001, the two became business partners, opening a campground in Three Lakes, Wisconsin.

“We had a great time. We revamped the campground. We made it from a small place to a big place, from 32 seasonal units to 129,” said Dennis. “The deer were out every day.”

After selling the campground in 2010, the two friends saw each other less. Then the COVID-19 pandemic prevented visits.

“When he came up to see me, my father had passed away and then my mother passed away, he came up to the funeral,” continued Dennis. “I couldn't travel because of dialysis.”

Dennis, who lives in Eagle River, Wisconsin, had learned he needed a kidney transplant and would require care at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, 330 miles away. Because of the distance, he was grateful to learn about Fisher House.

“When they told me I had to have a sponsor to stay at Fisher House, I knew Tim had his own businesses, so if I needed some help, it would be so much easier to have someone that could take care of everything,” he explained. “And also, you know, we have great times when we talk.”

Tim accompanied Dennis to Fisher House in March 2021 and then again in August.

“He's helping me go through a part of my life that has been difficult,” said Dennis. “He's always upbeat. He's always keeping an eye on me.”
The friends explained how comforting it was to have a high-quality place to stay, especially on a fixed income. Dennis said that he felt safer not having to stay downtown in a hotel. They also expressed how impressed they were with the thought that goes into the details of a Fisher House.
“It's like a five-star hotel with the structure and everything. It's quiet. The people… you couldn't have asked for anything better,” said Tim. “They made us feel welcome and invited us to come out and have dinner. That was unbelievable.”

In August, Dennis learned that he is well enough to move onto the kidney transplant list.

“I am so happy talking about it. The doctor came in and said, ‘You're ready and we'll put you on the active list so you can get a donor.’ So, I got to call my kids and give them the information,” said Dennis. “I'm scared, I'm kind of stunned, and a little tickled. Keep taking care of yourself. That's how I got here. After 18 months, I got this far.”

“We just want to go somewhere and celebrate,” said Dennis. “Get some real steak dinners and a beer.”

“Celebrate in moderation,” chimed in Tim, always watching out for his good friend.