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Sanford Health oncology staff hold signs listing donors for the Sanford Joe Lueken Cancer Center on Wednesday during a celebration to mark the beginning of its construction. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service

'New era' of cancer care emerging at Bemidji Sanford hospital thanks to family donation

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota employees, as well as hundreds of community members, joined three Lueken family members Wednesday, July 19, to commemorate the hospital's emerging cancer treatment wing and the man after whom it's named.

The Sanford Joe Lueken Cancer Center represents a "new era of cancer care," hospital staff said, and will include a host of therapies, treatments and services for patients battling the disease.

The Joseph and Janice Lueken Family Foundation gave Sanford the lead donation that gave the hospital leeway to expand its cancer services and centralize them, and hospital staff organized a "construction celebration" on Wednesday on the hospital's sprawling Bemidji campus.

"It's the legacy that the foundation was more or less hoping to leave with the community with Joe's name on it," said Janice Lueken, Joe's widow, who said she had been looking for a way to preserve her husband's name after he died in 2014 after his own battle with cancer.

Joe Lueken was a longtime businessman and community-minded philanthropist who owned and managed a trio of grocery stores—two in Bemidji and one in Wahpeton, N.D.—that he later sold to his employees. He routinely donated to Bemidji State University and the foundation that bears his name gave money to public television and public schools. One of Lueken's last initiatives funded an anti-bullying program at Bemidji Area Schools.

"The community was so important to him and we loved living here," Janice Lueken said. Hospital staff approached her about two years ago to speak about the center, she said. "The timing was so perfect because that was sort of what I had in the back of my mind. I was thinking, while I'm still alive, I want his name to last in the community."

The $12 million cancer center is scheduled to open in fall 2018, and construction crews already have begun their work across the street from Wednesday's commemoration.

The hospital has treated more and more radiation and medical oncology patients over the past five years, staff said, and the center could double its capacity and allow for more clinical trials and research; staff; and modalities of treatment.

"This facility will bring Sanford Bemidji's cancer center all under one roof," Dr. Jasmine Kamboj, a medical oncologist and hematologist at Sanford, told celebration attendees.

"There, we'll have seamless patient experience all across one care continuum, where we'll have things like inpatient chemotherapy, high dose radiation therapy, boutiques, pharmacy—all aligned under one roof to accommodate and coordinate a seamless patient experience."