- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Tony Habeck rhythmically rummaged through the drawers and cabinets of his sister Brenda Tryan’s home on a recent weekday, moving swiftly from room to room to the next available set of cabinetry.

Open. Slam. Open. Slam. Open. Slam.

The 54-year-old man wasn’t looking for anything in particular; he was just curious, the Winona Daily News (https://bit.ly/2dN3gfF ) reported.

Open. Slam. Open. Slam. Open. Slam.

His Minnesota Twins had already finished their game for the day, defeating the Detroit Tigers, so he was looking for something else to occupy his mind.

It’s a mind that has not always been easy for others to understand.

According to his sister, Tony was born with an unidentified disorder that has autistic-like tendencies. He is non-verbal but knows some sign language and can communicate with the help of an iPad.

Tony is a whiz at math, loves to imitate people and is extremely sociable, Brenda said. He utilizes his social skills to convince people to give him his favorite go-to snacks of soda and candy.

Tony’s life has consisted of a series of group homes that have tried to give him the best life possible, but it has been with Home and Community Options in Winona that Brenda said Tony has really flourished, living the life his parents always hoped they could provide for him.

Brenda, at 11 months younger than Tony, has experienced the highs and lows of Tony’s life alongside him, with a bond that she said has always been close.

One day, young Brenda was playing at the bottom of the stairs while Tony was supposed to be sleeping upstairs. Curiosity and Tony’s resistance to sleep got the better of him when he started to push a dresser closer and closer to the top of the steps, Brenda recalled.

“I was young, but I can still remember looking up the stairs because my mom freaked out. And she comes running over and said, ‘Tony no,’” Brenda said. “He wasn’t being mean. He was going to create some noise, is what he was going to do.”

It was a turning point for Brenda and Tony’s parents, Lucille and Wayne Habeck.

With a farm, two full-time jobs and the fear they could not give Tony and their other children the quality of life they deserved, Lucille and Wayne decided to put Tony in a group home at 5 years old.

Brenda remembers her mother’s insistence that Tony deserved a normal life, even if it meant living away from home.

“I remember she went one of the places that was recommended,” Brenda said. “And I remember going along with and her saying it was like a hospital setting. It was just rows of beds, and she said, ‘No way is he going to be raised that way.’”

Instead the family found Tony a real home in Austin, where he lived until he was 18 years old. It was still an hour away from his parents and four other siblings, but visits from family and trips home made the distance a little easier.

Tony was forced to find another home when he turned 18 due to his age, and the family found another home in Albert Lea. He was only allowed to stay until he was 21 - but by then HCO had opened in Winona. The family knew they could not pass up a chance to have Tony home again.

Tony moved to a home near Winona State, where he got to live with a relative for the first time in 16 years, an uncle who was living in the same home.

Curious as ever, Tony would often sneak out of the big old house. At one point he was found walking over the bridge into Wisconsin, so HCO recommended Tony move into a smaller home to help prevent his escapes.

He eventually moved to a home in Pleasant Valley, where he spent a majority of his years with HCO. It was an opportunity Lucille and Wayne had not been afforded since Tony was a toddler: the chance to live within minutes of their son.

The last two decades had been anything but easy without their son, but Brenda said she knows her parents did what was best for him.

“He was still part of the family, but it was just it was going to be better for him. I know it was hard. But it was the way that it was,” Brenda said.

Tony eventually began to communicate more with the help of his case worker, Traci. With his progress, Brenda said the family has never felt any pressure from the organization to take care of Tony because HCO has enabled him to depend on himself.

“They’ve just been really caring for him personally,” Brenda said. “They’re always coming up with different things to do and bouncing ideas off of us. They’ve never given us pressure. They don’t put that pressure on like it’s our responsibility.”

About five years ago, Tony started having trouble maneuvering up and down the stairs in the big home in Pleasant Valley, so Traci recommended he move to a home on Belleview Street in Winona with three other roommates.

Tony originally had three male roommates, Brenda said, but two passed away, and two women moved in. And since Tony is more sociable around women, she said, and so the group began to socialize more, from checking on each other to watching television together.

The roommates once hosted a Super Bowl party with the help of one of HCO’s workers, Eric, who would always have a football game on during every Sunday shift.

Each roommate was allowed one invite, and Tony of course invited Brenda and her husband, Fred.

With all the ingredients for tacos and avid football fans, the house was the perfect place to watch the big game, even if it was just until halftime. To this day, it remains one of the best parties the couple has been to, Brenda said.

“Fred said we had more fun there than we ever have anywhere else, because when we got there they were so happy,” Brenda said.

Besides providing opportunities and teaching communication skills, HCO also saved Tony’s life.

More than three years ago one spring, Tony was taken to the hospital with a twisted intestine that doctors fixed. But later, he was not improving.

Brenda was sure she was seeing her brother on his deathbed, until an employee of HCO and someone who Tony readily communicates with stopped in for a visit.

Through her skills, the worker was able to get Tony to say he was having trouble breathing, and doctors were able to diagnose him with pneumonia. Later that fall, Tony was back in his home.

“I don’t know if he would have survived that night,” Brenda said.

Today, Tony still lives in the house on Belleview, where he continues to create bonds with his HCO staff.

He has plenty of other stories, like the friend Eric found for him. Now Tony and the friend visit the deer park and eat McDonalds together on a regular basis. Tony is no longer an isolated member of the community, leading the life his parents had hoped nearly 50 years ago that he would find.

“They (HCO) try to integrate them into the community. They have parties, they go out for any of the church social, take them shopping, take them to the bank. People get to know them,” Brenda said. “If we can walk into a grocery store or a McDonalds, it’s not uncommon that they’ll say, “Oh, hi Tony!’ I don’t know who they are, but they know who he is.”

“To me that’s something special that HCO does do, is make it feel like he (has) some normalcy.”


Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com

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