MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – When you walk through the doors of the Steve Mariucci Family Beacon House, it’s probably for an unfortunate reason.
“A lot of people have heard of Ronald McDonald Houses where families will stay when a child has a serious illness and is near a children’s hospital,” said Mary Tavernini Dowling, CEO, Mariucci Family Beacon House. “Many people have heard of Hope Lodges which are cancer related. It’s a house next to a cancer treatment center. I recently just read a beautiful story about the Fisher House where veterans stay when they’re getting their medical care. What Beacon House is, is all of those things rolled into one because our regional medical center is here when people have cancer or they have serious illnesses, a brain tumor or where orthopedic surgery is required, this is the hospital that they come to. So, when you have that medical emergency, that you have a safe affordable place to stay and the last thing you have to worry about is, ‘Can I afford it?'”
With many helping hands to guide patients and their families through what can be life’s most frightening time is Mary Tavernini Dowling, leading the way as Beacon House’s CEO.
“I feel very blessed that I got to grow up here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I truly think that this is a very unique place,” said Tavernini Dowling. “I did move away for a little bit and everywhere I worked people would always comment on my work ethic. I thought that was interesting because I was just like everyone else, I grew up with. We work hard, we take our job seriously, we show up for work, we do our very best. I think that’s just how Yoopers are. I am very proud to be a Yooper and this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. I’m very, very luck to be married to an amazing man and I have two beautiful step-kids that make my home life magic and they’re also very supportive of how passionate I am about Beacon House.
You won’t see Mary just sitting in her office all day. She’s at the front desk, making meals for guests and most importantly, making these guests feel like they are home.
“I will never forget the day that I was in the Beacon House, I was in one of the guest rooms that was a makeshift office and a lady walked in the door with two grocery bags,” said Tavernini Dowling. “I asked her if she needed help finding the kitchen. She said, ‘No, I’m here to check in.’ those grocery bags were her luggage. She was told that she had cancer and that the only way she was going to survive was to come to Marquette for treatment. She said that she would decline the treatment because she couldn’t afford to stay here to have that care. So she had made a conscious decision to not survive because of her financial hardship. When we got to know her a little better, she had so much to live for and she had so much to give the world still. By Beacon House being that place where she could stay and not have to worry about how much it was going to cost because of the generous donors who make us be able to do this, she fought the cancer. She survived and she thrived, and to this day she still sends us an annual note and tells us how much she appreciates what we did for her. There’s been thousands of people since her that we’ve helped, but I always think back that she’s the one who really showed me what an amazing thing Beacon House is and how important it is. If it’s just one person, it’s worth it. When you know everyday it’s dozens of people daily, it’s thousands annually and over the years of course you just think about all of the lives you’ve made a little less worried. A little more bearable.”
Her light shines beyond the guests of Beacon House, guiding growth in the Marquette and surrounding communities.
“I’ve known Mary for many years and I feel I’ve had a front row seat to see the many things she has done for the Beacon House,” said Dale Moilanen, Vice President, Beacon House Board of Directors and nominated Mary for Remarkable Women contest. “For me, it was a no-brainer for putting her in for the award. After all she’s done, writing the nomination was the easy part, keeping it to 500 words was probably actually the hardest part. Just on day-to-day, she’s created a culture caring for all the employees, spearheading over the years hundreds of fundraisers, raising millions of dollars. Lobbying with local hospital administrators, executives, legislators. She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to promoting and fundraising and is just the as I said in the write up, some would say she’s the face of the Beacon House, I say she’s the heart and soul of the Beacon House.”
Recently, Beacon House celebrated the one year anniversary of it’s new facility. It’s a project that started in 2014 when UP Health System Marquette announced construction of a new hospital on the other side of town.
“So we kind of surveyed everyone to say would you still come? Would you still stay? And 99% said no, they wouldn’t come here for their care because it was too far away,” said Tavernini Dowling. “They could only come if there was a Beacon House and they would only stay if Beacon House was closer. So that just made it be a no-brainer for us. Well, we needed to move the Beacon House. We needed to build a new one right next door and that has actually been the most enormous blessing because we got to design this house to be a Beacon House.”
Fast forward to 2022, the new Beacon House opened for full operation and Mary was behind this effort the whole time.
“That’s been just an absolute miracle to me that we were able to focus on that cancer patient,” said Tavernini Dowling. “What do they need? How is that going to work? The person with mobility issues. How do we make it easier for them to get around to navigate things. Mothers with small children? How do we make that child’s experience be, how do we make them able to still be a kid while they’re going through this medical crisis? Every different kind of guest we were able to just look at this and say, ‘What can we do to make that perfect for them?’ Or just better anyway. Then, to be blessed with Steve [Mariucci] as our chairman of our board and the most amazing board of directors who all agreed, ‘Don’t do this good enough. Let’s do this to the best that we possibly can.’ This is our one shot in our whole lives to do something really outstanding. Let’s leave a mark.”
“I don’t know how many people in this world love, love, love what they do,” said Steve Mariucci, Beacon House Chairman of the Board, NFL Network analyst, former NFL coach and Iron Mountain native. “Some people work just to earn a living, some people work because that’s what they have in front of them, some people work for their next job, whatever that is and I get it. But, she is unbelievable in that she is so committed to what she does and she doesn’t just work a job. I don’t think she considers it a job. I think at the Beacon House, I think it’s her vocation. I think it’s what she loves to do as a human being. Not sure if she had any days off at all. I mean she sends pictures of her and her staff cooking Thanksgiving meals for the guests. It’s just every day to a point where I’m concerned about her. It’s like, you gotta get a life, you gotta relax, put your feet up once in a while and just chill. She could burnout in one second, but she’s so into the people that she works with over there. She loves her staff and all of that yes, but she’s so committed to the guests at the Beacon House and they’re from everywhere. They’re not just from the U.P. They’re from out of state, out of the country some of them and she takes a personal interest in each one of them like nothing that we’ve ever seen before. I’ve kidded her before, she’s the modern day Mother Theresa and she’s just so unique and God, we all love her.”
It’s clear to see that the Mariucci Family Beacon House would not be what it is today without Mary Tavernini Dowling.
“I feel like the luckiest person alive I think because I get to be front and center at watching so many lives change.”