RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - After moving to Richmond in 1995, Cornelia “Connie” Merrill soon began volunteering at Reid Hospital, not knowing anyone in town but her immediate family.
More than 20 years later, she’s logged 6,340 volunteer hours for Reid Health and made quite a few local connections.
Remarkably, at age 97, Merrill still is willing and able to help at Reid when needed, and she still drives to get there.
“You have to do something - you feel useful,” Merrill said about volunteering. “You’ve got to keep busy doing something.”
She also follows this motto: “Everyone should belong to three organizations: One to learn, one to be useful, and one to have fun,” she said.
In honor of the time and dedication she’s given to the hospital, Merrill received Reid Auxiliary’s Lifetime Award earlier last month.
To be eligible for the honor, volunteers must meet at least two of the three criteria (3,000 hours of service, 20 years of service and at least 70 years of age). Merrill met all three.
When Becky Jewison, Reid’s director of volunteer services, spoke with Merrill at the recognition program, she wasn’t surprised Merrill inquired about future projects.
“She walked in and said, ‘What’s next?’” Jewison said. “Connie is amazing. She’s just a delightful person.”
Volunteering in health care has fit well with Merrill’s education. She grew up in Indianapolis and earned a degree in medical technology at Butler University.
Merrill married her husband, John, during World War II and lived and worked in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Fort Wayne. She eventually moved back to Indianapolis and later to Richmond to be near daughter Judy and son-in-law Ed Thornburg. Judy’s brother, John Jr., lives in Albany, N.Y.
“It’s a lovely place to be,” Merrill said as she accepted the award.
After joining Reid, she’s volunteered in several departments including surgery (16 years), the pain center (eight years) and just concluded more than five years in pharmacy. Recently, she and other volunteers shifted to help with special projects since the pharmacy department has become more computerized.
For instance, one of the special projects available is to help color the Tree of Life to brighten patients’ rooms. The displays are placed in every room to help staff learn names of the patients’ family members.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Merrill said of her time at Reid. “All these people are kind and helpful.”
She especially enjoyed the variety of duties while volunteering in the surgery department.
“I wasn’t doing the same thing all the time,” she said. “It was not monotonous, ever.”
Merrill said the greatest challenge has been “just getting here in all kinds of weather.”
Fellow Reid volunteer Nancy Sharp of Richmond worked with Merrill in pharmacy and is complimentary of the honoree’s efforts.
“She’s so dependable, so easygoing, so likable,” Sharp said. “She’s just a great person. She’s very knowledgeable and fun to be with and talk with.”
Sharp isn’t sure she’ll reach the 20-year milestone as a volunteer, but Merrill told her not to dismiss the idea.
“Connie said, ‘It comes before you know it,’” Sharp said.
At the awards program, comments were read from pharmacy staff showing how deserving Merrill is of the award.
“The thing I remember most about Connie is her reliability. Unless we received 2 feet of snow and she couldn’t find a snowplow driver to get her to Reid, we knew she would always be here and ready to go,” one said.
Other staff said Merrill “is truly dedicated to Reid’s mission and cares about what she is doing, knowing it was benefiting our patients.”
“When interacting with any staff, Connie always has a smile on her face,” someone said. “She is willing to do anything asked of her. She knew it had to get done by somebody, so it may as well be her.”
“Connie was so much fun,” one employee wrote.
Another praised Merrill’s work ethic and said she always wanted to stay busy.
“She was dedicated to the pharmacy staff and fellow volunteers,” one employee wrote. “I wish everyone had her attitude.”
Another employee said, “When changes occurred that resulted in pharmacy no longer having volunteers perform many tasks, we could never replace what our volunteers like Connie brought to us . in particular the work ethic and positive personality she always showed.”
Some comments from her other previous assignments in surgery and the pain center were just as complimentary.
“I don’t know what we would do without her,” one said, with another adding, “We all have great respect for her and hope she knows how much she is appreciated in the department.”?
Another said, “Connie is just the most helpful, meticulous person I’ve ever known!”
In addition to her time volunteering at Reid, Merrill has donated hours to Morrisson-Reeves Library.
“She’s always plugging away, always helping,” said son-in-law.
And she’s still a member of a garden club, even though she doesn’t have a garden these days.
“I went because I like flowers,” she said.
When she’s not volunteering, Merrill is an avid needleworker and enjoys difficult crossword and jigsaw puzzles.
Hours, dollars donated add up
“In November, the season of thanksgiving and gratitude, we are so grateful for the volunteer corps here at Reid for serving patients and their families,” said Randy Kirk, president of Reid Foundation. “It’s an extraordinary group sharing their time and talents for the benefit of patients and the community. It truly is a joy to pause and say thank you.”
Reid’s corps is quite large, with about 330 volunteers.
In 2015, the adult volunteers gave more than 37,000 hours, and the junior volunteers gave more than 1,300.
Kirk said Reid has one of the deepest volunteer programs in the state, both for the numbers of volunteer hours given and how many points of patient contact volunteers offer in the hospital.
Jewison has been leading the volunteer program for 2½ of her 10 years at Reid Health and said she loves watching the volunteers touch people’s lives. She grew up volunteering with her family as they helped her brother’s Special Olympics team.
Jewison shared a quote from one of her favorite musicals, “Seussical,” with volunteers at their annual celebration to remind them of their impact.
“To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world,” she said.
Jewison reminded them even quick tasks such as looking up a room number or holding a door are important for patients and their families as they’re dealing with health challenges.
“I don’t think you realize what all you do here,” she said.
Volunteer services assistant Chelsea Struewing interviews prospective helpers and places them at the hospital.
“It’s the most humbling thing I’ve ever seen,” Struewing said. “They are humbling individuals, willing to come and do whatever’s needed. They’re good examples for what to strive for in life.”
In keeping with the recognition program’s theme of “The Magic of Volunteers,” Kirk said Reid has a magical group of helpers.
“They are so much fun to work with,” he said.
Some volunteers’ roots are quite deep at Reid. At one time, Ruth Haskett of Richmond and five siblings all gave their time at the hospital. Currently, four of them still are involved.
Haskett has volunteered at Reid for about 10 years and helps with special events as needed. Before she became legally blind, Haskett helped in the mailroom and gift shop and filled in at the emergency room. She praises the hospital for working around volunteers’ disabilities to find tasks they can do.
Reid Auxiliary always welcomes new volunteers. Typical duties that can be selected include supplemental services (such as clerical duties, helping in the gift shop or mailroom support); adding to the quality of health care (helping patients and families in emergency, radiology, heart and cancer services); or bringing a special touch (playing music, delivering Meals on Wheels, providing therapy dogs).
Through fundraising efforts and the proceeds from the hospital’s gift shop called the Ginkgo Boutique, Reid Auxiliary has donated a total of $2 million since 1948 to support hospital services, programs and equipment needs.
One of the auxiliary’s current fundraisers is the annual Celebration of Love and Life Tree. The 9-foot tree will be near the main lobby of the Outpatient Care Center, decorated with angel, star and snowflake tree tag name ornaments. Each donation of $2 or more can be made in remembrance, in honor or celebrating someone, represented by an ornament.
The auxiliary also is selling copies of its cookbook for $5 at the gift shop.
In addition to time, the auxiliary also gives a significant amount of money to the hospital each year. This year’s contribution of $201,323 will go toward Reid’s equipment needs, pediatric programs and support for its BRAvo! program to offer no-cost mammograms to women in need.
“I have so much fun at the bank drive-thru with this,” joked Kirk as he posed with a ceremonial large check during the volunteer recognition program.
Selected purchases for 2017 include three labor and delivery fetal monitors, a maternity bed, a nursery infant warmer, seven baby rocking chairs. three recumbent cross-trainers for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, two bariatric Hercules beds, a defibrillator and pediatric crash cart for the Innovation Center, a bariatric recliner for the sleep lab, a kiddie lit program for the emergency/Innovation Center, the Resolve through Sharing for the Mother Baby Care Center, the Pediatric Cheer Fund for nursing and the BRAvo! sponsorship.
Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, https://pinews.co/2fRExsk
Information from: Palladium-Item, https://www.pal-item.com
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.