Beckley-area couple finds home away from home at Rosenbaum Family House

Monday, February 24, 2020

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Whenever Larry Cole returns to Morgantown for cancer treatment, he and his wife, Becky, always get a warm welcome at Rosenbaum Family House.

“This place has been great to us,” Larry said. “They call it a family house, and it is. They treat you like family, every one of them. When we come in the door, we get hugs from everyone.”

“And big smiles,” Becky added. “That makes you feel good.”

Thanks to the generosity of founder Hilda Rosenbaum and many donors who followed, Rosenbaum Family House provides a home away from home for adult patients and their families while receiving medical care from WVU Medicine in Morgantown. Since opening in 1999, the Family House has provided lodging for more than 21,000 families.

Among them is Larry Cole’s brother-in-law. Based on his positive experience, he suggested the Coles look into staying at the Family House after Larry was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal blood cells. Larry, who lives on the far side of Beckley, was referred to the WVU Cancer Institute from Raleigh General Hospital. After the initial visit to WVU, the Coles were referred to the Family House, where they have spent more than three months during his treatments. 

Patients and family interested in staying at the Family House must be referred by WVU Medicine, over the age of 18, and live at least 50 miles away. The facility’s 40 rooms – including 11 apartments – are almost always full, so it can take up to a week to get a room. With an average stay of 10 days, the $25 nightly fee is a bargain compared to other options.

“It’s unbelievable,” Larry said. “One night in a motel is basically what it costs to stay here for a week, if you figure your meals and everything else in. You take three months away from home staying in a motel, and a working-class person could not afford it.”

Grateful guests and friends of the Family House cover the nightly cost for anyone who cannot afford the fee, and volunteers prepare or provide evening meals Monday through Friday. A full kitchen, secure storage cabinets, and refrigerator space are available to guests, along with laundry facilities, computers, a day room, a children’s playroom, reading area, and more.

“We want to provide as many of the creature comforts of home as we can,” Rosenbaum Family House Director Teri Ford said. “Our goal is to help our guests relax and take their minds off the medical issues they’re facing by providing an affordable, convenient, and inviting place to stay.” 

‘Keep giving’

More than a year into Larry’s cancer journey, the Coles have spent enough time at the Family House to build lasting friendships with guests and staff, many of whom they stay in touch with even when they’re at home. Becky said sharing light-hearted moments with employees and others has helped her cope with her husband’s health challenges.

“When you’re going through something like this, you’ve got to laugh,” she said. “You just can’t go around crying all the time.”

Larry particularly appreciates the staff’s knowledge and understanding of the medical challenges many of the guests and their families are facing.

“These guys have seen me at my worst and my best,” he said, jokingly citing his “bald spell” due to chemo treatment as one example. “They know what’s going on.”

Larry and Becky are now waiting to see if his cancer goes back into remission as he continues to take daily medication and visit the WVU Cancer Institute once a month for three days at a time. He previously went into remission for about five months following a bone marrow transplant, but the cancer returned.

The Coles are grateful to the donors who have made it possible for them to stay at the Family House, particularly Hilda Rosenbaum and her family. Rosenbaum, a Morgantown businesswoman, was inspired to create the Family House after she and her husband were forced to sleep on cots and chairs while seeking out-of-town treatment for their daughter’s cystic fibrosis. Rosenbaum vowed to help other families in similar situations and made the initial financial contribution to build the first Family House, which was replaced by a newer, larger facility in 2014.

“I would love to have met her and given her a hug because she had to have a heart of gold,” Becky said.

Larry’s message to donors and supporters of the Family House is simple: “Keep giving.”

Food, kitchen supplies, cleaning products, and more are always needed at the Family House. For more information on making a donation or providing a meal for guests, contact Development Officer Jill Zangari at 304-598-6094, Opt. 3, or jillian.zangari@wvumedicine.org.

Gifts to the Family House are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.

For more information: Heather Bonecutter, Communications Specialist, 304-285-7256