Sharing Stories: Knoxville Veteran Curt Froyen Assists EveryStep's Mount Ayr and Knoxville Hospice Teams

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Curt Froyen of Knoxville is living a life of service that began in the U.S. Navy, transitioned into teaching and now continues as an EveryStep volunteer.

Curt served on active duty as a Navy officer from 1971 to 1976, serving as Commanding Officer of a river patrol boat (PTF-19) and as Communications Officer aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CVS-14). The Ticonderoga was the Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) for the Apollo 17 space mission.

Apollo 17 was the last and longest mission in which humans traveled to the moon. The crew included Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist-astronaut to land on the moon; Eugene “Gene” Cernan, who had previously flown on the Gemini IX and Apollo 10 missions; and Ronald E. Evans, who orbited the moon alone for three days while his crewmates explored below.

“I was actually in charge of the motor whaleboat, so when the capsule landed, I was right there. My boat was sent to recover the heat shield, which we did,” says Curt. “It was the only time in all of the space missions that the heat shield was recovered. That was important because they were using a variety of different types of ceramics to see which would hold up better on re-entry. They used that information for building the Challenger and [future] space missions.

“There was even a picture in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum of my boat and I’d take the kids there to show them, ‘that’s your dad!’”

After leaving active duty, Curt and his wife Kathy moved to Knoxville where they were teachers for many years. Kathy spent the majority of her 40-year teaching career in the Chariton Community School District, while Curt taught high school science in Knoxville.

Curt now has a new mission: as a volunteer for the EveryStep Hospice team in Mount Ayr and Knoxville. He is involved with both Veteran-to-Veteran visits and pinning ceremonies for veterans who receive care from EveryStep.

“It is such an honor to work with the men and women who have served this country. Every one of them has an interesting story to tell. When I go to meet a veteran for the very first time it’s like we’re instant friends because of our shared experiences,” says Curt. “Whether it’s boot camp or whatever it is, we all have so many things we’ve done that are similar. Everybody’s [experience] is unique as well, but we all share a love for our country.”

EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program is a special service pairing veterans who are volunteers with hospice patients who have served our country.

“I know many times the veterans we are going to see know, and I know, that they don’t have much longer. They like getting their story out. Even as they begin to lose their memory, they remember those things and they want to talk about them. They take pleasure and comfort in being able to relate those stories and to think back about them. I feel like when I leave, it helps me just as much as it helps them.”

Curt encourages any veteran to consider volunteering with EveryStep Hospice. “We talk about our families and laugh, and sometimes shed a tear, as we share the adventures that life has brought us. It does the soul good.”

Curt is the Commander of Knoxville’s Baty Tucker Post 168 of the American Legion and serves as the chaplain for the unit’s funeral honor guard. He is also a member of the Marion County Commission on Veterans Affairs and board president of the Knoxville Panther Scholarship Foundation. For the past few years, Curt has worked closely with the Quilts of Valor organization. He also helped organize a “welcome home” ceremony in 2017 for 165 Marion County Vietnam-era veterans as they received their Vietnam War commemoration pins.

To learn about volunteering opportunities across the 44 counties and many communities served by EveryStep Hospice, please visit https://www.everystep.org/volunteer/get-started. If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.