Mary Holmgren (KVH Volunteer)

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.”

Peg Coble

Peg Coble

As a nurse, Peg Coble forged a long career helping others. In retirement, she’s still at it.

Only this time it’s as part of KVH’s Volunteer Bereavement Group, a small corps of specially-trained volunteers who work on-call providing emotional and spiritual support to families in crisis.

Because KVH Hospital is small, social service staff work during the day, when most patients are discharged from the hospital. “But we have families in crisis 24/7,” says Rhonda Holden, chief nursing officer and administrator of patient care services at KVH. To fill that gap, last year KVH put out a call for volunteers, a call that was fueled by the Patient and Family Centered Care Advisory Council.

Coble signed on.

A former westsider, she’d come to Kittitas County with her family in 1980. By then, her career already included time at several hospitals, including five years at Harborview in Seattle. In Kittitas County, work in a nursing home would be followed by 20 years with Hospice.

“People that are in Hospice don’t have a job, they have a calling,” says Coble, a woman of deep compassion and strong faith.

For Coble, the Volunteer Bereavement Group provided a perfect niche. Volunteers take weekly turns on-call from 4 p.m. until 7 a.m. responding to the emergency room in the event of a death or traumatic event.

When a woman traveling through Ellensburg with her family suffered a heart attack at a gas station, Coble was with the family while the patient was stabilized at KVH Hospital before being transported to Yakima Regional’s cardiac center. “I was able to help the family by explaining things, giving them directions to where she was going and information that would help them when they got there,” she says.

When a woman was brought in with serious injuries, Coble was at the family’s side as doctors battled three and a half hours trying to save her life. “Her son and his fiancée were visiting from California,” Coble says. When the woman died, “I was able to counsel the son’s fiancée about how to get him help with grief when they got back home.”

Grief training prepares volunteers to provide appropriate support in the midst of trauma, Coble says. “It’s called companioning. It’s no time to preach. There’s a term called ‘therapeutic presence.’ You may just sit silently with them, or just sit and listen, let them talk and cry, give them a hug. Sometimes they want you to pray with them.

“Each family really dictates what happens.”

Wyman Renfrow

Wyman Renfrow

As a retired Ellensburg firefighter, Wyman Renfrow knew the exhilaration of saving lives. As a volunteer at KVH Hospital Renfrow, now 80, also knows the satisfaction of making life easier for others.

Flash back 40-plus years. Renfrow and another firefighter are out doing inspections when dispatch signals a house fire. First on the scene in their pickup truck, the two men find flames visible – and a baby trapped upstairs. Renfrow tries the inside stairs but is forced back by heat, smoke and exploding ammo.

A fire truck arrives and begins raising a ladder to the upstairs window. “I started climbing even before the tip hit the window sill,” recalls Renfrow, who found the baby, took her to the window and handed her off to another firefighter.

And yes, he says, there is a “rush” to saving lives.

The truth is, he didn’t set out to become a firefighter. A 1952 Ellensburg High grad, he  enrolled at CWU intending to become a teacher. That summer he also began volunteering with the Ellensburg Fire Department, drawn by the lure of public service.

In 1956, Renfrow landed a job as a firefighter with the Seattle Fire Department and four years later joined the Ellensburg Fire Department, eventually rising to the rank of captain. Along the way, he and another member of the firefighters union co-founded Local 1758 Life Support Fund, a fund that allows the public to make charitable donations to support fire department services.

Retired after 27 years as a professional firefighter, Renfrow, who had driven a school bus during college and been a substitute driver while working as a firefighter, went back to driving a bus. “I liked the kids,” says Renfrow, who was a bus driver for 50 years and director of transportation for two.

But even when he was done with that, he wasn’t really done.

In 2008, Renfrow signed on as a volunteer at KVH Hospital and now works six hours a week at the desk in the Surgical Outpatient (SOP) department and four more at the courtesy desk in the hospital lobby.

Karen Schock, volunteer director at the hospital, currently manages 65 to 70 community volunteers like Renfrow. In 2014, they donated 13,170 hours, a contribution valued at more than $300,000, Schock says.

But their role is really priceless.

Readily distinguishable in their blue KVH volunteer jackets, Schock says community volunteers offer a comforting personal touch aimed at reducing the anxiety patients and their visitors may feel in what might otherwise seem an impersonal, clinical environment.

In SOP, volunteers provide a warm transition from check-in to the point where a registered nurse takes over.  At the front lobby courtesy desk, volunteers greet the public, often personally escorting patients or their visitors to the appropriate area.

“After a patient checks in, we’re the first smiling face they see,” says Renfrow whom Schock calls an outstanding example of KVH Hospital’s volunteer corps.

“He trains volunteers in the SOP desk and courtesy desk positions,” Schock says. In the SOP department, “he notices what the department needs to provide patients and their families with an experience that is exceptional.”

Example: SOP appointments start at 6:30 a.m. But volunteers didn’t start until 7:15 a.m. When Renfrow realized that some patients were arriving as early as 6:15 a.m., he changed his schedule so that he also arrives at 6:15 a.m. to start the setup process, make coffee and be ready for early arrivals.

New volunteers are now expected to do the same thing. He also helped develop written standards for the courtesy desk and SOP desk, ensuring that all volunteers know what is expected and how to make it happen.

“I wanted to do something to help,” Renfrow says. “This is a way I could help the community. It’s fun and I enjoy it. I feel like I’m helping the hospital – and the people who go here.”

Judy Ragland

Judy Ragland

From phone calls to flowers, volunteer Judy Ragland – a gentle dynamo in a tiny five-foot-tall package – makes her mark on KVH Hospital.

If you’re scheduled for a mammogram, a CT scan or an ultrasound, there’s a good chance hers is the voice you hear on the phone reminding you of your appointment.

If you’re picking up flowers in the hospital gift shop, Ragland’s the one who provided the flowers and created the bouquet.

If a difficult day finds you pausing at the hospital’s Healing Garden, know that she’s the one who literally and figuratively helped plant the seeds that made it reality.

Suffice it to say that Ragland, who once planned a career in medicine, has no problem finding ways to make a difference as a KVH volunteer.

Raised on Bainbridge Island, she earned a pre-med degree at the University of Washington and was accepted to medical school. Love intervened and Ragland, married in her senior year of college, abandoned plans for medical school.

Four children and a divorce later, Ragland was a single mom working as a licensed vet tech at a large veterinary hospital in Issaquah. At the time, job and family responsibilities left little room for volunteering.

But that would change.

Ragland remarried. In 2000, she and her husband Frank came to Kittitas County and now make their home on a ranch in Thorp they’ve owned since 1989.

In 2002, Ragland signed on as a volunteer in the imaging department at KVH.  “Back then, they were using film,” she recalls. “I knew how to do that from the veterinary hospital.”

With the department’s procedures now digitalized her role changed. Ragland, gifted with a kindly persona and a warm personality, is one of two volunteers who call patients to remind them of their appointments. Her shift is Monday morning.

“It’s definitely an outreach, especially now when so many things are done by machine,” Ragland says.

Karen Schock, director of volunteer services, calls Ragland “the consummate volunteer. She really gives from the heart,” Schock says.

Credited with helping initiate the effort to create the Healing Garden, Ragland asked the auxiliary for financial support, helped establish the garden and still helps maintain it. “The idea was that it would be a peaceful spot for someone needing a few quiet minutes and a little calm,” says Ragland who also has filled in as a Cancer Outreach Program volunteer when needed.

Ragland’s reward? “Just the idea that you’re contributing to the overall functioning of the hospital,” Ragland says. “From all I see, I think they do a great job. I really do. They’re very good in many places and they also know how to hand something off when that’s appropriate. You just hear raves from people about how much they care and how good the care is.”

She flashes a lively grin.

There is one problem, she says laughing. “The gals in imaging are always so appreciative for what I do,” she says. “When we’re traveling out of town, I always feel guilty on Mondays.”