Say something interesting about your business here. The Sundance Growth and Learning Stable was created to help people who are sick, suffering or just need a healthy change in life. Charles Sundeen (Sundance) was a survivor of being an at-risk youth, a survivor of many health issues and a dedicated veteran who lived a life with PTSD. He often talked about opening an orphanage for homeless boys such as himself. There was also a deep compassion for his fellow military service members. After his death it became apparent that he suffered with all the signs and symptoms of PTSD and combat stress from the Korean War. To cope and build resiliency for his own survival he surrounded himself with horses. That was his saving grace throughout a challenging life. There were moments during his life that he had as many as 20 (possibly more) horses including racehorses, broodmares, yearlings, foals, riding horses and even a horseback riding stable. He left behind a legacy of a great horseman and a veteran who endured many hardships but still persevered through all his troubles.
The Sundance Growth and Learning Stable uses Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) to help others just like him that are in need of healing so they can lead a healthy happier life. He never had a desire to go sit in a therapist’s office but if he knew EAP and EAL existed, where the therapy took place in a horse arena rather than a therapist office, he would be the first person in line to receive services. That’s how powerful horses are and he knew that from his own experiences. EAP and EAL have been around for 15 years, existing throughout most of the 50 states and in 38 countries. Sessions are co-facilitated by a Mental Health Specialist, an Equine Specialist and horse(s). It has been proven to be very effective in a shorter period of time than being in an office setting, less expensive and more solution-based.
By: Megan Sundeen
Orphaned at the age of 11, Charles Henry (Reagan) Sundeen, aka Sonny, managed to emerge from a life grief stricken with poverty that surrounded his environment. On May 18, 1932, Charles Henry Reagan was born in Rock Falls, IL to Ralph Reagan and Mary (Cox) Reagan as their second child. Through his early school years his father became ill and Charles had to miss a lot of school to stay home and take care of his father. His father died in March of 1943 from Tuberculosis of the Kidneys, and exactly 3 months, June 1943, his mother hemorrhaged to death after the birth of her 6th child. The day his mother died changed Charles’ life forever.
The first 11 years of his life he saw first hand the stress of the Great Depression bearing down on his poverty stricken parents. Charles was running the streets, skipping school, and getting into trouble because there was no one to supervise. His parents both had to work in the steel mill factory to support their family. His older sister was responsible for taking care of all the young children so Charles was on his own. Devastated by the loss of his mother he approached his grandmother and pleaded with her to take him into her home. Sadly, she had to turn him away because she was barely able to provide for the needs of her other 10 children.
Charles was adopted by Frank and Myrtle (Druva) Sundeen in 1943, farmers southeast of Geneseo; Charles was now the only child of financially comfortable older parents. Tragically orphaned a new beginning in life arose for Charles. He transitioned from being 1 of 6 children to an only child with financially comfortable older parents. Frank, a descendent of Sweden, bonded with Charles and taught him life altering knowledge about farming, horses, cattle, hogs, dogs, cats, etc. He learned how to raise profitable beef cattle and loved to brag that he was the only kid in high school that had a brand new car. His new mother Myrtle had been a resident of the area and was able to provide Charles with the love and nurturing he needed as a young boy. Stories told declare Myrtle and Frank as very wonderful kind loving people. Charles’ older sister was close to the age of being an adult, but also left homeless with a very high percent chance she would not be adopted due to her age. The kind hearts of Frank and Myrtle opened their hearts and home to her so she could finish school and remain part of Charles’ life.
Every Saturday night farmers would come to town and gather. A year after adoption Charles was accompanying his new parents on a routine outing. Charles saw a boy walking towards him, amazing to Charles it was one of his biological brothers. The Sundeen’s welcomed a relationship between Charles and his biological brother who had been adopted on the other side of Geneseo. In addition to the local family that surrounded him, Frank and Myrtle made a point to take Charles to visit his biological grandmother who remained in the hometown of Rock Falls, IL. His biological grandmother was able to make it down to visit him on special occasions.
Although Charles held a lot of resentment for his biological grandmother not being able to keep him in the family, he still made it a priority to visit her and share joyous times with the 10 aunts and uncles (some the same age) until she died at age 94. He commented years later that being adopted by the Sundeen family was the best thing that could have happened for him. His older sister helped to keep Charles in contact with the 4 younger siblings. He always had a joyous time sharing memories with them and loved retelling stories.
One memory he referred to often was the first present his new parents bought him, a pony named “Tony.” He shared great stories of his experiences with Tony and the tricks he would play on school mates. Often he would talk about how that pony saved his life as a troubled boy.
After graduating from Geneseo’s Class of 1950, he found another passion (besides his high school sweetheart) for stock car racing along with two of his closest high school friends, John Fiers and Bob Reese. He also farmed and hauled cattle for two early pioneers of the agriculture market in Geneseo and Atkinson, Mr. Bollen and Mr. Lloyd Arnold.
In 1952, he married his high school sweetheart, Joy Cochran. Shortly after the wedding he was drafted to serve in the United States Army. After Fort Leonard Wood’s Boot Camp, he was deployed to Korea for the remainder of his 2 year Army Service. Due to his experience with truck driving he was assigned to drive the water trucks to the frontlines of battle. It was a time in his life that he never liked to talk about and rarely did unless asked, but even then he did not share much.
After war “Chuck,” a name he had tattooed on his left bicep while in Korea, went back to farming with his father. In his mid to late 20’s, Charles began having severe back pain. He was diagnosed with a hereditary spinal disease, Anklyosing Spondolitis that slowly fused the bones of the vertebrae together limiting and eventually ceasing mobility to the spine. He was in extreme pain throughout the process of the bone fusion and for the rest of his life. He managed to bare the pain enough to work and support his family. A doctor gave him advice to always stay active so he would not lose full mobility. That was a risk he faced with no cure and the possibility of being bent over permanently.
In 1956, Charles welcomed his first child, a daughter into the world. As a toddler his daughter was diagnosed with a severe mental health illness and would never be able to read or write. A son was then born in 1964, a daughter 1969, and another daughter in 1974.
In the late 1960’s he was hired by John Deere Harvester, East Moline assembling combines. As a John Deere laborer, he became active with the Union Local. According to Charles his assigned duty for the union was “union fighter.” A term he never explained in detail, except that he had to rough up some people. Later in 1976, he was injured while fixing the broken down machine that he worked with. While high on top of the machine, a supervisor came by and flipped the machine on catapulting Charles into the main isle way of the factory. He sustained serious injuries that left him with no choice but to resign with disability from John Deere before the age of 50. As the sole income he had become disabled with 4 children ages; 2 years old to an 18 year old special needs child.
To help him stay active his old mentor and good friend, Lloyd Arnold, took Charles on a short impressive flight in his private plane to Aurora Downs where Charles saw his first Standardbred Horse Race. After seeing the horse races he was bitten by the competitive world of owning, breeding, and training racehorses. Eventually he started his own horse racing stable and called it “The Sundance Stable.” He lived for horse racing and was a very good trainer. He had a special connection with the horses and very intuitive to their characteristics and knew it was important to keep them happy. He was always excited when he would create his own ligaments and paint for the horse’s legs that would help them to be free of lameness and ready for the race. Another enjoyment he had was making money wagering on the horse races. During his racing career he used the Quad City Downs in East Moline, IL as his home base for the stable and later the Henry County Fairgrounds. Dedicated to racing and financially supporting his family he raced in Chicago and most of the county fairs throughout Illinois. In addition, he sometimes traveled out of state racing in Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and Florida. Going to the horse races even after the Quad City Downs closed he could be found every night watching horse races around the country at the now off-track betting parlor. Within the last 10 years being a daily customer he managed to get free ice cream Sundays from the ladies at the food counter. He was a smooth talker and new how to work his way into freebies and then loved to brag about the good stuff he would get. Everyone called him Sundance and he walked with great pride holding that nickname he created for his racing stable.
He owned and trained a lot of horses over his 40+ years of experience with the ups and downs brought on by the horse racing industry. Sundance was a very smart man and taught his children a lot about horses and provided them with as much horse experience that he could teach them. One of his favorite things to do was go to horse auctions. It was common for him to go the first Monday of every month to the Kalona, IA Sale Barn in Amish Country. During one sale while sitting on the bleachers along the sale arena a scared horse jumped over the arena wall and landed right over Charles and came out with just a scratch. He was tough. Many times he was bitten, kicked, thrown off the jogging cart by a horse, drug, and through all that never had a broken bone. There were always bruises, cuts, and scrapes on him. Nothing stopped him from spending 7 days a week with his horses. Charles also had a special talent wheeling and dealing horses, cars, or whatever else he could when it was possible to make a buck off someone.
In 1988, He suffered from a heart attack that forced him to change his lifestyle. When the doctors shocked him to revive his heart he recalled events during that brief time he described an out of body experience where he could see everyone below surrounding the bed and the best part of it, he would refer to, was the pain free feeling his body had. He claimed that he felt no pain and experienced the best he had ever felt. Then he described the feeling of a sledge hammer hitting him in the chest. He woke up and recalls telling the doctor, “Why did you do that, man I felt no pain for once!” Charles didn’t have interest in a relationship with God until that life changing experience. After losing many army comrades, 2 sets of parents and all the other hurt and pain he lived as a child there was a wall of resentments. That night some of that wall came down and he decided to give up alcohol, smoking, and tried to be more careful with his daily routines. The most difficult part of his daily routine would have to be put on hold until he was well enough. He became very restless and depressed when he could not go to the barn and be with his horses or visit with his buddies. As a result, he didn’t wait as long as the doctor wanted him to, and so he eased himself into at least getting out of the house to be in the horse stable. Even if it was to just sit and visit with his fellow horsemen and women.
After his 4th child moved away to college he and his wife packed up the house they had lived in for 18 years, filled with family heirlooms that were auctioned off, and put it on the market. Sundance and Joy retired to a condo they bought in Margate, FL. As expected he did not go to Florida without his horses to race. He was so at peace in Florida and quickly fit the profile of a snowbird. His daily activities involved going to the barn taking care of a couple horses and telling stories with old racing friends he had known a long time. His barn attire always consisted of bib overalls and his yellow and green stable had that read “Sundance Stable.” Sometimes he would blend in with the rest of the older population with his shorts, white trouser socks, white shoes, and bearing his stark white legs often having more than one bruise. He was finally living out his dream. Every fall he would take off to Florida and 6 months later he was in a big hurry to get back to his hometown, Geneseo, IL and excited to attend many county fairs.
In 2003, he moved Joy back to Geneseo so she could be closer to her elderly parents in their last few years. He made sure that his daily routine included going to the barn every morning and taking care of the one or two horses he could handle. The horses were so spoiled by the big carrots he gave them as a treat. Charles would make a special trip to the flea market to get fresh carrots just for his horses. A favorite past time, Charles loved telling stories and enjoying memories with fellow horsemen that were stabled at the Henry County Fairgrounds and around the area. In the afternoon after everyone had left the barn he could be found taking a nap in the lawn chair and would sneak a flake of hay to all the horses.
Charles enjoyed county fair horse racing so much that he would take his horses all around Illinois to various fairs that had horse racing. You could find him sitting in the shade with his yellow Sundance Stable hat, next to his horse that was ready to race enjoying freshly squeezed lemonade and a pork chop sandwich. He would also travel great distances to go watch horse racing at other county fairs and every year attended the Illinois State Fair. One year his dream came true at the State Fair when he ended up in the winner’s circle with a filly trotter he shared ownership with won a very profitable stake race and later became recognized as the top trotting filly of the year for horse racing in Illinois. Over the years he passed on his knowledge of horses to his children. All of whom shared a love for horses with him, and eventually each of them purchased their own racehorses. Horse Racing was the family business he created and took great pride in.
As he aged his health gave him more obstacles. One of his serious health issues, after the heart attack, was an abdominal aneurism. It was located right next to his spine. He had a 50/50 chance of being paralyzed after surgery. It was a long surgery once the doctors where able to see that not only had his spine disease fused his vertebrae, it also caused his organs to fuse together. During separation of the organs he started hemorrhaging and the surgeons had a difficult time stopping the bleeding. He overcame that obstacle only to learn a couple years later that he had Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, depression, and the common ailments that come with aging.
In October of 2008, Charles lost footing and fell in the parking lot at a farm store he frequented. He was in immense pain from the 5 vertebras’ that had hairline fractures. With the increase in pain his symptoms became too overwhelming and he was miserable. It was not until 8 months later and several visits to many Quad City Specialists, Iowa City Specialists and finally the Mayo Clinic before pin pointing the cause of his misery. After several visits to the Mayo Clinic, the specialists reached a conclusion. The discomfort he was experiencing finally discovered as Parkinson’s disease, and it had rapidly taken over. His Mayo doctors discovered that he was being significantly under prescribed with his Parkinson’s medication. With a lot of stress on his wife he made a conscious decision to reside at Hillcrest Nursing Home temporarily until Mayo could help him get well. Unfortunately there was no hope for him to have relief from the grueling symptoms of Parkinson’s. In August of 2009 his family was forced to make a decision on what was best for his health care to be managed. By that time he needed 24/7 care and remained at the nursing home.
Charles gave up on fighting and coping with his multiple health issues. While a resident at Hillcrest he would demonstrate flashbacks to when he was in war. Tormented for years with one health issue after another, displaying signs of possible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his experience in the Korean War, and then unable to enjoy his horses that had become his survival mechanism Charles made a decision that he was ready to be with the God. With one of his children he surrendered to God and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. At last he felt his life was complete and he was ready to be with the Lord on March 1, 2010.