The Madison Valley is a refuge for Peter and Gracie Rosenberger
MCALLISTER—Like many, Peter and Gracie Rosenberger are only residents of Madison County for part of the year. But unlike most snowbirds, they leave their home in Nashville to spend the winters in McAllister, not the other way around.
“We’ve been coming here every Christmas for 20 years,” says Peter. “There’s something about this place in the winter that’s incredibly special, it settles your soul a little bit.”
And with the life they lead, the Rosenbergers deserve a place that can settle their souls.
The pair met in 1985 when both were students at Belmont University in Tennessee, Gracie a gospel singer and Peter a pianist—or as Peter puts it jokingly, “Lady Godiva and Mr. Ed.” They were an immediate match, but their relationship was set apart from the beginning by an event that had occurred two years prior.
In 1983 at the age of 17, Gracie had been in a devastating car wreck that crushed and broke nearly every bone in her body. Her back and neck had been broken, her legs crushed, her nerves damaged. She was told she’d never be able to have children.
Not long after she met Peter, Gracie had first one leg amputated, then the other. In the years since, she’s had nearly 50 blood transfusions, 80 surgeries, multiple embolisms and seizures. She suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage still restricts the mobility of her right hand.
Yet the first thing you notice about Gracie is her smile.
In a multitude of ways, Gracie beat the medical odds after her wreck—the most fundamental victory in just being alive. She and Peter have two sons and several grandchildren, another thing she’d been told she’d never have. She walks with a cane on state-of-the-art prosthetic legs, but she needs routine testing, monitoring, hospital visits and care.
Peter has provided that care for his nearly 30 years of marriage to Gracie, something that constitutes a full-time job in itself. But through the adversity and challenge that each day faces, the Rosenbergers still exude joy. Their annual time in McAllister, they say, helps them to recharge and refreshes that positive outlook.
Gracie first drove through McAllister when she was 16, a featured soloist on tour with a choral group, performing in Bozeman, Yellowstone and a series of other stops around the West. She thought to herself, “what a cool place to be from.”
Years later, her parents built a cabin in North Meadow Creek—one of the first homes in the area, before subdivisions like Shining Mountains were developed. In the years after she married Peter, the couple sent their sons to stay with their grandparents in McAllister in the summer, especially in times when Gracie’s hospital visits made things more challenging than usual.
“When they came out here, we knew they were safe,” says Peter. “So many people cared for them and loved them in this community. They came back stronger, better young men every time.”
For some, a devastating, live-changing injury like Gracie’s, especially occurring at such a young age, would slow them down. But for the Rosenbergers, it created a life mission.
They created Standing with Hope, a nonprofit that recycles and repurposes prosthetic limbs like Gracie’s and donates them to people in need who suffer from similar injuries or conditions that require amputation. Through a program called Core-Civic, they partner with area prisons, with inmates disassembling the donated limbs and the parts being recycled to create new prosthetics.
They travel to Africa routinely through the nonprofit, primarily to Ghana, where they supply both prosthetics and medical training to those in need, ensuring that in the future they’ll be able to turn to resources in their own country, like doctors and prosthetists. That effort has spread over the years into several West African countries, with the newest endeavors taking root in Nigeria.
“My passion is to let each patient know that amputation doesn’t define them or limit them from living a life full of meaning,” says Gracie. “All too many consider disability a curse.”
In the midst of such a busy and daunting day-to-day existence, Peter has also developed another project over the years to help caregivers like himself, who spend their lives caring for loved ones with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
His weekly radio show, “Hope for the Caregiver,” is broadcast nationwide on over 200 stations, providing advice and support to a network of caregivers on everything from adaptive equipment and health insurance to feelings of fear, obligation, guilt and isolation. During their months in McAllister, Peter still broadcasts the show from their cabin, allowing himself to slow down and enjoy the quiet they don’t find in Nashville. He finds he often gets more work done, but the respite is more of a spiritual one.
“This is a place where we can come for healing because our life has been filled with so much trauma,” says Peter. “We love the quiet.”
While the quiet of the mountains and the river provides a sense of calm, the Rosenbergers agree: the most life-changing part of being in the Madison Valley is the people.
“They can’t take the burdens off me, but they can help me carry them,” says Peter. “I didn’t come out here to change Ennis or McAllister. I came out here to let it change me.”
He likens the daily traumas he and Gracie live with to the relentless winds that blow down the valley; sometimes, you just have to stop fighting and accept the things that are. And the communities of the Madison Valley have helped ease some of the burden.
“We all need a windbreak,” says Gracie. “It makes the hard days less hard, being out here.”
Some day, Gracie says, they hope to relocate to McAllister permanently, along with her nine-year-old Australian Shepherd, whose name is McAllister in honor of the place she loves so much. When she’s back in Nashville and her pain is at its worst, she remembers the Madison Valley and the people who live here.
“When I’ve been in the hospital for such long periods of time, one of the things I would pray was ‘Lord, let me be able to get back out to McAllister and to those mountains,’” she says. “I hate leaving here, and I want to stop leaving.”
Someday, it might happen. But until that day, just the reminder that the quiet strength of Montana’s mountains—and more importantly, its communities that have done so much for them—are still there brings comfort to a tumultuous and challenging life. It provides a windbreak.
“Every time I leave here, I leave better because I take a little bit of this community with me,” says Peter. “Even when we’re not here, it’s comforting to know that it is. The pain might not go away, but life is still beautiful.
“If you come here ready to take it in, it’ll change your heart.”