Hospital volunteers on steady climb

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
May Kleeman of Jasper restocked a room in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital in Jasper with supplies last Tuesday. Kleeman volunteers at the hospital every Tuesday for about four hours. The hospital has 300 volunteers, half of whom were recruited in the past two years.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — A few weeks ago, Deb Boyles, Memorial Hospital’s volunteer coordinator, got a phone call from a concerned wife. The conversation went something like this:

“Deb, could you call my husband? He just retired, he’s really bored, and he needs something to do.”

Boyles, always on the lookout for more volunteers, promised to call but swore she wouldn’t reveal her source. Since the couple knew her, it wouldn’t seem too far-fetched for Boyles to cold call the restless retiree.

When she got him on the phone, he agreed to talk but seemed suspicious.

“Did my wife put you up to this?” he asked.

“Oh, we don’t talk about things like that,” Boyles said. “I just thought you’d make a good volunteer.”

Whether they come willingly or by subterfuge, scores of volunteers have joined the hospital’s ranks in the past two years. The number has doubled from 150 to 300 since Boyles took over the program in 2011.

The numbers have swelled largely because of ramped-up recruiting efforts. Since taking the helm, Boyles has made the rounds at local clubs and civic groups, enlisting volunteers from the Jaycees, Kiwanis Club and retired teachers association. She even sidles up to people in the grocery store, asking if they would consider volunteering.

Until a few years ago, most volunteers were assigned to the hospital’s front desk or gift shop. Some grumbled about wanting more interaction with patients, said Sister Rose Mary Rexing, the hospital’s executive director of mission integration.

Boyles asked each department head, about 30 in all, if they needed an extra set of hands. Volunteers now fan out across the hospital, serving in the emergency room, cancer center and outlying clinics.

“We gave them lots of opportunities besides front desk and gift shop,” Sr. Rose Mary said.

While retirees make up the largest share of volunteers, Boyles also has seen a rise in teenagers wanting to help.

When she had trouble finding volunteers to file paperwork at a clinic in Ferdinand, she called Forest Park High School. Within days, she had a list of students who had come forward.

Most of her flock, though, are in their golden years. One volunteer is well into her 90s.

For years, she helped out in the gift shop. But when a new checkout system was installed, “that was pretty well it. That confused her,” Boyles said.

Boyles didn’t want to lose her, so she was reassigned to the information desk.

Volunteers seem to depend on the hospital as much as the hospital depends on them. Whether it’s keeping a cancer patient company during chemotherapy or sewing a ripped seam in a hospital gown, volunteering helps retirees “feel valued and feel like they’re playing an important role,” Sr. Rose Mary said.

“It’s a win-win,” she added. “They still have something to contribute, and we benefit from their gifts.”
Vera Crutchfield worked as a housekeeper in the emergency room before retiring a few years ago. She would have continued working, “but my age caught up with me,” she said.

To pass the time, she began volunteering in the ER, where she stocks the supply shelves. It gives her something to do and frees up the ER nurses to do other things.

“Time goes so fast in the ER,” Crutchfield said. “It’s never boring in there.”

May Kleeman also stocks shelves in the ER. She began volunteering at the hospital about two years ago after retiring from doing factory work for Kimball International.

When she isn’t in the ER, Kleeman helps out in the gift shop and is part of the hospital’s Prayer and Presence program in which volunteers comfort patients who are gravely ill.

For her, volunteering is a way to socialize. Every Tuesday, she has lunch with a group of other volunteers. They gather in the cafeteria to eat, talk and laugh.

“Working in a factory all your life, you don’t get the opportunity to volunteer,” Kleeman said. “This gives you the chance to do what you want to do.

To become a volunteer, contact Deb Boyles at 996-0504 or All volunteers must go through an orientation and are expected to make at least a six-month commitment.

Contact Tony Raap at

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