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Methodist’s Mama Denise: ‘This Is My Family’

February 01, 2018

She’s the one. The one so many people rely on. The one who is loyal and caring and funny and feisty and – to be perfectly frank – unforgettable.

Once you meet Denise McClendon, she sticks with you. She is the unit secretary on IU Health Methodist Hospital’s transplant/oncology floor. A7N, to be exact.

She is part receptionist, part medical assistant, part shoulder to cry on, part call light answerer, part supply stocker, part comic, part organizer.

And part mama.

McClendon is known as “Mama Denise” at Methodist. She has mentored so many people throughout her nearly 40 years at the hospital.

She has watched people come and go. She has watched technology advance. She has watched the hospital change. And she has never thought once about leaving Methodist behind.

“As my mom would always say, bless her heart, ‘This is your family,’” McClendon says. “Methodist is my family. I love working. I love my job and I love doing what I am doing.”

Through her years at Methodist, she says, “My good days definitely outweighed my bad days.” 

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Born in Nashville, Tenn., McClendon’s family moved to Indianapolis when she was 8 years old. Her father was a truck driver and, once in the city, her mother landed a job as a nursing assistant at Methodist.

As a student at Shortridge High School, McClendon says she was a tomboy. She ran track, until she fell and hurt her knee. Then, she was done with that sport.

McClendon decided to focus her energy on school – with a goal of going to college to get a nursing degree in Nashville. She worked hard, excelled and graduated a year earlier than she was supposed to, in 1976. 

But then, just as she was set to head off to nursing school, her mom got sick. McClendon wanted to be there and that nursing degree went on the backburner.

McClendon got a job in retail at L.S. Ayres Downtown Indianapolis working in the juniors department. She also did modeling, showcasing the department store’s clothing in the tea room.

When her best friend took a job at Methodist working in the gift shop, she urged McClendon to join. That was 1979 and McClendon said yes.

And she has stayed nearly 40 years.

McClendon’s always liked the variety, the opportunity at Methodist to move up, to do different things. While working in the gift shop, McClendon took a secretary class.

She became a unit secretary in pediatrics, and then went on to the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I think I cried every day,” she says. “I was sitting there in the center at my desk and had 10 or 12 beds in a circle all around me with newborns and babies. And it broke my heart.”

McClendon always knew what was a good fit for her at Methodist. And that is why she has been so successful. She worked on the adolescent unit, the orthopedics unit, in sports medicine and ophthalmology.

Five years ago, she came to floor 7 to be the unit secretary of oncology and transplant. And there, she really felt at home.

“I just couldn’t believe how it fit me so well,” she says. “I felt like this is where I needed to be. And it’s been just wonderful.”

 More With McClendon

Personal: She married for the first time in 2009, at age 50, to husband, Steve. She has a grown son, Mychael.

Her hours: She works 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. three days a week. She almost always picks up extra shifts as well.

Outside of Methodist: Every Friday night, McClendon and Steve have a date night. They like to eat seafood (her favorite is crab legs) and go to the casinos.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
    Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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