- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

LINCOLN, Ill. (AP) - Over her 60-year career, Shirley Dittus has rolled bandages, worked in a coffee shop, spoken with elementary and high school students about health, made candy, assembled gift packs, pressed and mended clothes and attended meetings.

She’s done it for the same employer but hasn’t been paid a penny.

Dittus has been a volunteer with Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital since 1955.

“What a blessing. It’s unbelievable! I can’t believe I’ve been around that long,” Dittus, 83, said with a laugh last week in The Pink Shutter Thrift Shop.

She volunteers there at least twice a month, pressing donated clothing, assisting customers and providing other help as needed, said Lynne Metz, director of hospitality and volunteers.

Dittus, a native of Decatur, said she also helps out at the shop on Saturdays from time to time.

“Saturdays are kind of difficult since Victor (her late husband) passed away (in 2011),” she said.

Proceeds from Pink Shutter, 114 N. McLean St., Lincoln, benefit hospital auxiliary programs that support ALMH.

“It’s amazing that someone has been volunteering for as long as she has,” said Pink Shutter Manager Jennifer Heidbreder. “Her knowledge of things is amazing.”

Dittus has been involved with the auxiliary for 60 years and remains on its board as a liaison to the Illinois Hospital Association’s Constituency on Volunteers, which supports hospital volunteerism.

“I’ve always loved it,” Dittus said of her hospital volunteer work. “That’s been my career. The hospital is a big part of my life.”

“She’s a lovely lady,” Metz said. “She’s meant a lot to our critical access, small hospital. Lincoln is lucky to have a person who has given so much of herself to the hospital and community.”

But Dittus’ recognition extends beyond Logan County because of her role with the hospital association’s Constituency on Volunteers. Dittus is among the longer serving hospital volunteers statewide, the association said.

“She (Dittus) served as the (Constituency on Volunteers) state chair in 2007, a position that required her to travel throughout Illinois meeting with hospital auxiliaries and volunteers from throughout the state,” said Sue Kaufman, hospital association chief operating officer.

“I have been honored to know and work with Shirley for over 35 years at the state level,” Kaufman continued. “Her outstanding leadership, caring way and commitment to hospital volunteerism is exemplary. Shirley is a tireless worker who always makes time to share her ideas with auxiliaries from throughout Illinois.”

“There are few people who can say they’ve given 60 years to any organization for no pay,” Metz said.

Dittus married Victor, a Chestnut native, in 1954. Victor and his brother bought a farm in rural Atlanta, Shirley and Victor moved there and Shirley continues to live in the farm house.

She quit her clerk/typist job when their first child was born. She and Victor raised three children and she helped him on the farm.

“I drove the tractor, the truck and the combine,” she said.

A new ALMH building opened in 1954, and her husband’s aunt, Stella Volle, was the hospital seamstress. By 1955, Dittus had joined the hospital auxiliary and was rolling bandages, making tray favors for patients and volunteering in the hospital coffee shop.

Over the years, she worked with hospital candy stripers; mended physicians’ gowns; made candy, mothers’ gift packets and children’s gift bags; joined the auxiliary board; worked the auxiliary’s booth at the county fair and helped to organize fundraisers, including fashion shows, queen contests, dances, luncheons, card parties and Festivals of Trees.

She was involved in a program to bring second-graders to the hospital and visited first-graders in school to educate them about what may happen if they ever had to be a hospital patient. She spoke with high school health classes to urge students to consider health careers.

She joined the Constituency on Volunteers and her reach extended statewide. She and her husband raised money for the current ALMH building, which opened in 2011.

In recent years, Dittus has limited her volunteer work to the Pink Shutter, the auxiliary and the statewide association.

“I got to know people throughout the state,” she said.

What’s most important to Dittus is the important role that hospital volunteers play and the personal relationships that result. She mentioned by name several friends with whom she has volunteered at ALMH, regionally and statewide.

“In those days, we knew our neighbors,” she said. “We all belonged to the community club, the hospital auxiliary, the Farm Bureau. It was all the same people.”

While that’s changed over the years, Dittus isn’t planning to stop her commitment to volunteering for ALMH.

“I plan to continue as long as they’ll have me.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1CT8csK

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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