Friday, March 17, 2000

Beyer’s Senior Volunteers: RSVP: Them, it’s short for love

Beyer’s Senior Volunteers: RSVP: Them, it’s short for love
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

Inside the cozy gift shop at Oakwood Hospital Beyer Center, Anita Cooper, a Retired and Senior Volunteer Program volunteer, handles the bustle of newcomers with grace and ease.

“We don’t have much left,” Cooper said this week,” although the gift shop’s shelves were still reasonably supplied with candy, magazines and some gifts. “It’s going ... gone,” she said, waving her hand, before helping the next customer.

“It appears as though the same can be said for the Ypsilanti hospital. Oakwood Healthcare System which operates Beyer, plans to close the money-losing facility next month. Cooper and other volunteers are among many who wish it wouldn’t have to be that way.

Along with hospital employees and administrators, many of hospital RSVP volunteers have worked there for years, some for decades.

The hospital’s volunteer work force boasts 45 women who wear pink coats, known as the women’s auxiliary, and eight men known affectingly as the “gold coats.”

All RSVP volunteers are 55 and older. The Catholic Social Services sponsored-program, said RSVP program coordinator Paula A. Dana, provides training, accident and liability insurance, transportation, recognition and expense assistance for service to all their volunteers.

Many Beyer RSVP volunteers said they’ve had a chance to try their hand at everything from the RSVP nursing student’s scholarship program at Eastern Michigan University to the hospital’s emergency room.

“Over the years, I’ve volunteered to do everything,” said Irene Hadley, who said she has worked at the hospital for 28 years, though not always as a RSVP volunteer.”

Hadley, an Ypsilanti Township resident, said that when she ran an area beauty shop in the 1970s, the shop was closed Mondays, and her husband encouraged her to do something on her day off. Hadley said she enjoyed hospital service from the beginning.

Elnora Miller, a coordinator of the women’s auxiliary volunteers, holds the record for RSVP staffers--12,000 hours of service over the past 20 years.

“You’ve got to keep busy,” Miller said.

But even Miller may cut down on her volunteering, which includes a post at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum, when the hospital closes.

Volunteer Bob Collins said that after Beyer closes, he’ll do something different. With plans to drive a van for Belleville-area seniors, Collins said he will find ways to occupy his time.
Although the city of Ypsilanti is disputing the closing of the hospital and is talking with a new group of physicians about continuing to operate the facility, the volunteers said they have come to terms with the closing.

Helen Birdsall, a volunteer for several years, said that many people she has talked to are finding that not working for the hospital will be “really hard.”

An RSVP volunteer of one year, Phyllis Meadows, said she started coming to the hospital to do services as a result of the kind care her mother received at Beyer while a patient.

Volunteers gathered for a good-bye and recognition party Wednesday. Dana encouraged the volunteers to sign up to participate at one of the 125 other RSVP volunteer sites in Washtenaw County.

Volunteer Simon Eaglin said serving at another hospital just wouldn’t be the same. The retired Ypsilanti postal worker, who has volunteered at the hospital for about 10 years, said he plans to work at Beyer until the hospital’s last day.

“I’ll be here till they close the door,” he said. “And I’ll come back the next day to make sure they’re locked.”

Originally published Friday, March 17, 2000