At age 94, Erna Hamm worked her final shift on Penticton Regional Hospital’s (PRH) oncology ward Wednesday, completing 33 years of volunteer service for the hospital.
When she finished her teaching career in Chilliwack just after she turned 60, Erna decided to pursue her passions for helping people and health care when she moved to Penticton.
“The last few years when I was a teacher/librarian I had a lot of parents volunteer and I appreciated that so much, I decided when I retire I’m going to volunteer,” said Hamm who was given a send off party last week at the hospital. “I thought, I always wanted to be a nurse. I’m going to work at the hospital, so I went to see (the supervisor) and she said, ‘sure we can use you,’ and I never left.”
In the more than three decades she has been helping at PRH, Hamm worked over 13,000 hours, which equals to more than a year and a half of seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
“Wow,” was PRH volunteer co-ordinator Launa Stocker’s reaction when she did the number crunch of Hamm’s volunteer hours. “Erna’s been phenomenal, I’ve only worked with her for less than a year but I worked in the admitting department for eight years prior to that so I knew she was valuable all along.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her this last year, I’m really going to miss her.”
By the time she left, Hamm was spending 11 hours a week at the hospital working in oncology, the clinics desk and the information desk, providing blankets for patients, making sure people were in the right area and escorting them to where they needed to be.
“On the whole, most of the people are appreciative, I’ve met a few of the other kind, but that just makes you appreciate the others that much more,” said Hamm, who still drives her car and did a zip line ride to celebrate her last birthday.
According to those who know her, it’s that positive outlook on life and great sense of humour that makes her so good at the tasks she takes on, something very much evident when she talked about her decision to stop volunteering.
“I knew eventually I would have to retire and I want to retire when people still want me to be here, before they say ‘when is she going to leave?’ That’s the reason,” said Hamm. “Retiring today, Oct. 31st has nothing to do with Halloween, because if they celebrate Halloween they might forget I’m leaving, but I hope they don’t because I want them to miss me.”
As well as helping the public, she also very much enjoys training new volunteer recruits, preferring the “hands-on” approach — just the way she learned. She also enjoyed the fact that over the years hospital staff, doctors and nurses came to accept her as “a member of the family.”
She admitted the decision to leave now was not an easy one.
“I will miss it very much, but this is going to be a different chapter in my life,” she said. “I’ve had many different chapters in my life and I can handle this one, I’m going to. I’ve made up my mind I’m going to like it, I’ll smile even though I don’t feel like it.”
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