Duo celebrates a half century of service

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Friends have volunteered with HMH auxiliary for 50 years

By Marty Finley

Snow did not stop them from coming to work and cancer merely slowed them down.

Despite their individual trials, Ruby Parker and Thelma Dunn have not budged from their duties. After 50 years volunteering for the Hardin Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, they still tackle their jobs with an energetic flair.

The two lifelong friends are quick with a laugh or a joke, describing five decades of local service modestly but with a note of gratefulness for the chance to meet new people and take their posts in the HMH gift shop on assigned Thursdays.

“It’s never been a job,” said Dunn, a quick-talking woman full of compliments. “It’s been a pleasure. We’ve met so many wonderful people.”

Ruby Parker explodes with enthusiasm, throwing her arms to describe her love for HMH, which she refers to as “the institution.”

“I got all the joy in the world, honey,” she said. “I can’t wait for Thursdays and Sundays.”

When they walk through the door, Dunn said, everyone always is eager to see them.

“It’s nice to feel needed,” she said.

The women were honored this month at the HMH Board of Trustees board meeting for their years of service and again at the annual HMH Auxiliary banquet Thursday night at Pritchard Community Center in Elizabethtown.

The women walked in and signed up on the same day in September 1962, the exact date now lost to history. Dunn said they were attracted to the Auxiliary by two “lady friends” who wanted them to volunteer.

At first, Dunn said, they were too busy raising children, working with their churches and attending PTA meetings but joined once their lives calmed down some.

In the beginning, they delivered mail, operated the gift shop and worked the information desk.

Thursday has been their designated day for the entire time except a brief period when they switched to accommodate two sisters. Dunn asked if they could have Thursday back if the sisters quit.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said. “I’ve just always liked Thursdays.”

The gift shop was much smaller when they started and they have experienced the shop’s every relocation and upgrade.

The women remember a time when they could place items, such as flowers, outside and trust people to come in and pay the shop because an honor system was in place.

They also used a cigar box to hold money years before bank accounts and technological advances would come.

“That was our first cash register, a cigar box,” Parker said.

Parker said they finally received a used formal cash register from the cafeteria. It was unwieldy, but at least they could divide their money, she said.

Dunn said she has traveled to other hospitals around the country and believes HMH’s gift shop is as cutting edge as any, adapting to the times as needed.

Since their start, they have buried children and battled cancer multiple times, spending several days as patients at the hospital.

Because of that, both women said they feel there no longer is a need to travel to Louisville for treatment because HMH is at the forefront of medicine and offers a nurturing environment to its patients.

Parker said she wishes her former physician in Louisville was alive to see the advances HMH has made over the years because he was convinced it was too small to be relevant on a regional level.

“I don’t think it can be beat,” she said.

Dunn now uses a walker while Parker is relegated to a wheelchair, so they have limited their work to the gift shop. But they still feel they have something to offer and want to do a good job assisting customers, mingling with the HMH family and meeting more people.

“They basically let us do whatever we want to do within reason,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she will step aside only if she feels she no longer can offer quality service. She does not want to be there simply to take up space.

Parker, though, said she cannot foresee a scenario when she will say goodbye voluntarily.

“Yep, I’m gonna be here until Mr. Brown comes and picks me up,” she said, referring to Brown Funeral Home.

Michelle Murphy, director of marketing and public relations for HMH, said the duo brings joy to all those around them.

“If you need a pick-me-up, just go to the gift shop,” she said.

Dunn said one of the most rewarding experiences is talking to people and meeting needs while Parker feels fulfilled when they close the gift shop on a good day.

“It’s like the money is for myself,” she said, laughing.

Parker also is competitive and said the women actively try to outperform gift shop workers on other shifts.

“We’ve had some good times,” Dunn said.

Both women have been honored by the attention they received in recent weeks and played along as Murphy joked about their celebrity status and future autograph requests.

But Dunn said plenty of worthy volunteers give their time. The duo just happened to be lucky to live long and be healthy enough to continue.

“I don’t think we’re deserving of it,” Dunn said of the attention.

As for advice to future volunteers, Dunn simply said to embrace it. The more you put into it, she said, the more you will take away.

“I just hope you enjoy it half as much as I have,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.