- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Mary Hunter wore her navy blue volunteer blouse for the final time on Tuesday, May 10, concluding nearly a half-century of volunteering at Forsyth Medical Center.

Timed for her 100th birthday, Hunter greeted more than 75 fellow volunteers and well-wishers with a common message.

“I don’t want to step down or stop, but I know it’s time to go,” Hunter said wistfully. “I’m not driving now.”

Hunter’s family convinced her recently to stop driving, including her 28-mile round-trip journey every Tuesday from Midway to volunteer in the nonemergency admittance area.

Although Hunter said she appreciates the person hired to drive her to her five-hour volunteer shifts, she didn’t want to place that burden “on someone having to take me back and forth, so I decided it was time to quit.”

The hospital’s reception for Hunter included a five-layer wedding-style white cake from Dewey’s Bakery with an additional two layers for her to take home.

For 44 years, Hunter welcomed patients and their families with a smile and an insistence that she get behind the wheelchair and push the patients to their initial destination.

Forsyth employees and volunteers say she could pass for someone a couple of decades younger in every respect.

Hunter clearly still has a bounce to her step and a spry sense of humor, saying that “I’ve never had so many hugs from so many men in all my life as I have today.”

“I’m humbled by this reception and by all this attention for just doing what I have always enjoyed doing.”

Hunter began volunteering in 1972, a year after her husband, Frank, died of a heart attack at 56.

“I’m blessed to have it and the friendships of so many people who have been volunteering a long time, too,” Hunter said. “Just being active has been important to me because once you sit down, that’s it. I’m trying to keep from having as many lonesome days as possible.”

Hunter stressed that only two individuals in her 44 years “weren’t nice to me, fussing about something beyond my means of helping them,” Hunter said. “I just chalked it off to them being nervous about whatever surgery they were getting ready to go through.

“Sometimes, they get around to asking me my age. When I tell them, they tend to be amazed and say I shouldn’t be the one pushing them down the hall. I always tell them I’m blessed to be in good enough shape to help, and to let me.

“Although, sometimes, it seems like they’ve stretched the length of some of these halls on me.”

Hunter was the longest-serving volunteer of about 700 at Forsyth, according to Susan Parks, the volunteer coordinator.

“There are some volunteers who won’t tell you their age who are likely close to Mary, but I would say she’s got them cleared by at least five years,” Parks said.

Patsy Stegall, Hunter’s daughter, said she’s glad her mom could stop volunteering when she decided to rather than having her health dictate the decision.

Luann Vanhoy is an administrative assistant at patient access who has worked with Hunter since her first day of volunteering.

“Some patients may look at her and protest a bit when she offers to push them, but she usually wins out,” Vanhoy said. “She’s always been nice, compassionate, nonjudgmental, a kind person to everybody. We’ll miss seeing her every Tuesday, but she chose the perfect day to step aside.”

When asked her secret to long life, Hunter cites “clean living,” although she allows herself the occasional sweet, such as birthday cake. Besides her daughter, she has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Hunter reassured the well-wishers that she has plenty to do, whether working in her flower garden, doing crossword puzzles, reading or her activities at Midway Methodist Church, where she has been a member since she was a newborn.

When asked what she received from 44 years of volunteering, Hunter said, “it’s a hard question to answer.”

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and hoped I helped people as much as I could.”

___

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com


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