OWOSSO — Betty Mael didn’t expect to volunteer at Memorial Healthcare for long when she began, but five decades after starting, she’s still at it.
“I started way back in 1968,” she said. “When I started I thought I would just stay a few years while (my husband Paul) was out of town with work with his business, but I’m still here it’s been over 51 years.”
Mael recently was honored by the hospital with its President’s Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement. Hospital President Brian Long announced the award honoring the longtime volunteer who has accumulated more than 10,000 volunteer hours.
“Thank you for your years of service, empathy, and compassion – for your selfless dedication to our patients and our mission at Memorial Healthcare. You are truly a blessing to our organization,” Long said in a press release.
When she started, Mael’s husband traveled a lot for work and her kids were finishing school — so she had a lot of free time and was seeking an outlet.
“I think it does everyone good to have some type of thing beside the ordinary things like work you do every day. There’s satisfaction in volunteering. To take time out to volunteer I think it takes a special person, someone who is dedicated to the love of people and doing your best to help people. That’s the most rewarding thing to just help people” she said.
Sharon Flanigan, a fellow volunteer, said there are three things that are very important to Mael: her husband, her children and her faith. Mael and her husband have two children, daughter Sandra and son Randy. who lives in Sacramento, California.
Randy Mael operates an office and furniture store the family owns. At one point Betty and Paul owned about 10 stores. Betty Mael said one was in Florida, and she and Paul spent their winters there.
Memorial was a place to keep her busy when her husband was away running the stores.
“I was just trying to stay busy but a few years turned into 50 in a hurry,” she said.
When she began volunteering the hospital only accepted female volunteers, but the board voted to change that about 20 years ago.
“For years it was just females but like everything, it changes she said. “Our volunteer director made up a little ditty, Betty Mael trained the first male to deliver the mail.”
The men mostly help driving the courtesy cars now, shuttling patients to and from their cars.
She said most of the people she met volunteering have since retired.
“I still get to see them at the annual Christmas party, which is nice to renew acquaintances.”
In addition to male volunteers, many other things are different.
“Oh my, there have been so many changes I was thinking about that just the other day. There was no ambulatory care back then. When I first started they brought you in the night before surgery, now you come in the hospital in the morning and when your vitals are good to go after the surgery you leave all in the same day. It’s quite a change,” she said.
She also said the physical layout of the hospital has changed a lot as well.
“I’ve seen a lot of additions to the hospital that have been nice. I don’t know how many areas I’ve seen over the years that have been improved and enlarged. It’s a whole different hospital since I started.”
One of the biggest differences from 1968 is how the hospital feeds its patients.
“Way back then we grew our own vegetables,” she said. “We had big gardens out in the back, we had a lot of fruit trees back there.”
Mael has spent a lot of her volunteer time at the information desk greeting people as they entered the facility and helping them find their way. The hospital now has a full-time staffer at the desk so she has moved to the discharge area. She makes sure patients have everything they need to leave the hospital, including a smile on their face.
“I feel like my job is to assist patients and if they’re having a bad day, I do what I can to encourage them. It’s just been something I’ve loved to do, I’ve really enjoyed it all these years,” she said.
She said one of her favorite jobs in her 50-plus years has been delivering mail to patients.
While sitting in the lobby at Memorial, Mael shared a bit of advice.
“Live a good clean life. Live a life you can be proud of. I think I can say I’ve lived a pretty good life and I don’t regret any of it,” she said.