Bruce Ario lived a full, independent life, balancing a job, his passion for writing and a schedule full of volunteer work despite living with mental health challenges that once left him homeless.
"Bruce was kind of a hero for a lot of people," said John Trepp, former executive director of Tasks Unlimited, a nonprofit providing housing and job training for people with mental illness. "Bruce had really overcome his illness ... and led a really nice life."
Ario, 67, of Minneapolis died unexpectedly Aug. 6 after a fall in his home.
Ario was born in 1955 in Virginia, Minn., the second of four boys. His parents, Frank and Georgette, a high school teacher and homemaker-turned-librarian, moved the family near Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, where the boys frequently played outside together, said eldest brother Joel Ario.
"Among the four of us, Bruce was the most sensitive," Joel Ario said.
Bruce was also the most adventurous sibling, in addition to being smart. After graduating from Washburn High School, he attended Carleton College, left to explore Europe and then graduated from the University of Minnesota.
He was employed at a Minneapolis hotel when he got into a car accident and hit his head. Disoriented, he wandered around the city for several days. He would later explain in a novel that he saw an angel at Minnehaha Falls who saved his life.
The head trauma and its aftermath — he was hearing voices and having visions — landed him in a mental health ward, Joel Ario said. Initially resistant to treatment, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota law school but continued to struggle, displaying unpredictable behavior and experiencing bouts of homelessness. After two years of school, he didn't finish and was civilly committed.
Finally, he saw a path to recovery through medication and therapy. In 1988, he became involved with Tasks Unlimited, where he learned job skills and began janitorial work. He worked his way up to a position as a mailroom manager and by 2002 owned his own condo.
He started writing novels, plays and poetry, learned karate and ran seven marathons, Joel Ario said. He became very involved at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, going on international mission trips, transporting seniors to church and making donations.
"He was such a kind and generous person," Joel Ario said. "He lived that way."
He served in leadership roles for various mental health organizations. Trepp said, along with giving speeches and selling his books.
He shared his story and experience with the mental health system to aid other people, Trepp said.
Melissa Hensley, an Augsburg University associate professor of social work, served on the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) Hennepin County board with Ario for several years. He always had a smile on his face, she said.
Ario put on continuing education workshops for social workers designed to help them understand how to work with mentally ill individuals. The sessions emphasized respect and listening when clients shared their own goals, she said.
"There was a lot that he knew and could share with social workers that enriched their practice," Hensley said.
Ario is survived by his three brothers, Joel, David and Kevin, and six nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents. Services have been held.