On December 4th of 2004, three Arkansas men whose lives had been touched by Hospice of the Ozarks set out on a journey. The journey led them 418 miles down the White River from Bull Shoals Dam all the way to the Mississippi River. They endured 5 days and 4 nights of freezing rain, snow, and bitter cold, stopping only to tent camp by the river at night. Though weather conditions were harsh, the date had special meaning to one man, Fred ‘Sonny’ Grueber. Hospice had made it possible for Sonny to keep a promise to his wife, Sheila, that she might stay at home during her illness. Sheila passed away December 4th, 1998.
Ray Novak and Robbie Banasiak shared Sonny’s goal of raising enough money to endow a room at Hospice House, which was then still in the planning. Together their dream was realized with three more successful adventures for Hospice.
Float For Life has since created a fund to help patients and their families with the rising costs of patient care. Hospice of the Ozarks offers a team of caregivers to take care of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the terminally ill in both Baxter and Marion Counties regardless of their ability to pay.
Sonny was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. On December 4th of that year, the same three men once again set forth on a journey, but this time only two men returned. Sonny made the first leg of the trip, landing at Calico Rock, Arkansas, but was forced to go home. He passed away Christmas Day 2007 at Hospice House in the very room that his float sponsored. Sonny, who had been a White River guide for over 17 years, was 70 years old.
Ray Novak and Robbie Banasiak carried on the annual float trip without their guide and best friend. In 2008, as he requested, Sonny's ashes were spread into the Mississippi River so that he may forever continue his dream of the Float For Life.
2008 5th Annual Float For Life Day One
The 9th Annual Float For Life Team:
Founders: Ray Novak and Robbie Banasiak, both of Midway, Arkansas
Returning Members: Richard Simmons of Yellville, Arkansas; Bill Sage of Tulsa, Oklahoma
The crew will launch their john boats at 8 a.m. on Thursday, October 4th, 2012, at Rivercliff Golf Course in Lakeview, Arkansas.
Float For Life has raised over $110,000 for Hospice of the Ozarks. You can share in the experience. This story has been captured in at least 19 newspapers and on 4 television stations. On this site you can read their stories, meet past and present crew members, find information about Hospice of the Ozarks, view photos of past trips, and donate to the cause.
Eagles Magazine 2008 (pg 6)