Allen County Regional Hospital honored its 53 auxiliary volunteers, Monday, with a carnival-themed luncheon in conjunction with National Volunteer Month.
Donna Culver, grandmother of 19 and great-grandmother of 31, is the leader of The Auxiliary group.
“She is an amazing lady, always upbeat and positive and that really makes a difference,” Tony Thompson, ACRH administrator, said.
Culver started volunteering at the hospital January 2014. She can be found once a week at either the receptionist desk or the gift shop. She has also been an officer of Crime Stoppers since its inception 22 years ago.
“I guess I am a habitual volunteer,” she said.
Culver started her career as a volunteer for the Red Cross in disaster aid, a position she held for more than 20 years. Her efforts focused on survivors affected by tornados, floods and hurricanes in both the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Culver said her life has made a full circle. She attended business college in Wichita after high school and afterwards raised 10 children.
“Regardless of my education and training, with that many children nobody would hire me,” she said.
Finally, she got a job as a dishwasher and assistant cook at Allen County Hospital. She eventually went on to work for Allen County Community College where she was director of both single parent education and allied health programs.
“So here, 50 years later, I am back at the hospital. I started out at 90 cents an hour and now I make the big bucks,”she said jokingly.
Culver said her experiences have left her with an awe for the resilience that people exhibit during times of tragedy.
Sometimes volunteering can mean trying something new and developing new skills. Hospice volunteer Saundra Upshaw, a retired elementary school teacher, was inspired after she witnessed the benefit of a hospice worker during her mother-in-law, Marjorie Upshaw’s, illness. Upshaw has volunteered to comfort and support terminally ill patients and their families for more than eight years.
Some volunteers are “people-persons.” Naomi Clounch works at the receptionist desk and makes phone calls for the blood donor bank. She was the cook manager for LaHarpe and Gas schools and retired in 1995. She likes showing people around the hospital, she said.
“I just try to do what I can to help people.”
Allen Community College student Erika Swaim, 20, proves that volunteering doesn’t have to come later in life. The pre-med student from Clay Center works at the receptionist desk and the gift shop. The older volunteers are accommodating and appreciative of her help, she said.
“They treat me like family.”
She said volunteering with people often 60 years her senior has been a good exchange of information and support. She has been able to help those volunteers who were “less than savoy” when it came to technology.
“I’ve definitely learned that patience is key and they always have good life advice,” she said.
Volunteering knows no gender boundaries. Paul Zirjacks, 81, retired from the U.S. Army after 30 years of service. He installs and maintains emergency call systems in people’s homes.
During his military career he lived in Germany for more than 13 years and speaks the language. He was also stationed in both Vietnam and Thailand.
“You can live a lot of places in 30 years in the Army,” he said.“ It’s a mobile society.”
He likes to travel and read, but prefers to read hard copies and doesn’t read over the internet.
“I do have a little cell phone in my pocket,” he said of the gift that he inherited from his wife, Judy, who passed away in 2014. There is an oak tree that stands on the northwest corner of Iola’s downtown square in her memory.
Zirjacks said he volunteers because there is a need for the service and he has the skills to do it.
“Plus it keeps me kind of busy, everyone needs something to do even if they are retired,” he said.
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