In 2022, April 17-23 is National Volunteer Week.
It was early 2002 when Doug and Mary Holmgren, freshly retired, moved east to be near to their children’s growing families. Not long after, a granddaughter was born at KVH Hospital.
“I noticed the hospital was preparing to open a gift shop,” says Mary, who had volunteered for years at the Mary Bridge hospital gift shop and knew a thing or two about retail.
When the KVH gift shop was ready to open, Mary was there to volunteer. Of course, it wasn’t all hard work. “Dolly McFadden did the coffee and I did the shop,” recalls Mary. “Wyman (Renfrow) would be here sometimes. We’d all get a bit noisy when there were no customers around. We were having a good time.”
The trio stayed flexible, shifting into new roles wherever they were most needed. Mary moved across the hall to the courtesy desk, and Wyman to the outpatient waiting area, to help patients and family members who were visiting the hospital. After their shifts, the friends would often have lunch together and catch up on family news.
Twenty years later, Mary remains a familiar face at KVH Hospital. She’s spent most of her adult life volunteering, even during a busy career as a pediatric nurse. “I enjoy meeting people,” she explains. She considers KVH “a nice place to volunteer,” adding, “Much of the time, the people you’re helping are neighbors and friends.”
That strong desire to help others unexpectedly pulled Mary out of retirement and onto the KVH payroll for several years. During a visit to her doctor at KVH Internal Medicine, one of the nurses was clearly struggling: a family emergency on the east coast was her heart’s priority, yet she was unable to travel without someone to cover her clinic shifts.
Enter Mary. Still waiting to be seen by the doctor, Mary realized there was something she could do to help. “I’m a registered nurse, you know,” she offered. “I have my license.”
The moment Mary’s exam ended, the nurse took her straight to the clinic manager. There was no hesitation. “I was signed up right then and there,” says Mary, who worked in an on-call capacity for the next half-dozen years, covering for maternity leaves, vacation, sick days, and more. She was happy to help, and did so on her own terms. “If Doug and I had a vacation planned, I let them know I wasn’t available. It worked out well for everybody.”
When COVID struck in 2020, protocols changed as the safety of patients and staff became more important than ever. With a strict visitation policy in place, volunteers were among those who were unable to enter the hospital and clinics. Mary took the next available opportunity to serve, lending a hand in late 2020 during COVID vaccination efforts at KVH Hospital and again at the mass vaccination clinics held at the Fairgrounds in 2021.
Today, Mary’s back at the courtesy desk, helping patients with her trademark smile, visible even behind a face mask. KVH staff are thrilled to see the return of volunteers, who are more like work family and were dearly missed. “We really need nurses, Mary,” one of her former Internal Medicine colleagues teased, recently.
Mary laughs. “I said, ‘I’m done.’ I retired at the end of 2013, and didn’t renew my license.”