You’re Never Too Old To Volunteer

November 05, 2017

They were born at a time when insulin was discovered as a treatment for patients with diabetes; measles was a common childhood illness; and the Band-Aid was introduced to cover wounds. Their young lives included news of the first kidney dialysis, first open heart surgery, and first blood bank.

These seasoned souls come from all walks of life – teachers, executives, and homemakers, but they are not newcomers to the health field. They are the face of experience in the collective group known as IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital volunteers. More than 10 are 90 years of age or older. Another 110 are between the ages of 70 and 79, and nearly 40 are between the ages of 80 and 89.

The way one volunteer remembers it, she didn’t have time to volunteer until later in life.

Oneida Hatton, the mother of five, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother to 14, was busy at home when her children were younger. The oldest child growing up, she learned at an early age to cook and sew and was expected to help with her younger siblings. She spent much of her adult life caring for her own family. She gained a reputation for her homemade cherry pies and chocolate cakes, and the ability to sew anything – including Easter dresses for her daughter, and overcoats for her sons made from discarded Navy uniforms.

“My husband didn’t want me to work until my kids were in school,” said Hatton, 90. She cooked for a time in a school cafeteria – the same school she attended in her youth. Eventually, the school was closed and she made her way to IU Health to begin volunteering in the distribution center. She doesn’t know how many steps she takes in a single day, but each Thursday she makes a number of trips from the hospital’s basement supply room to deliver goods throughout the hospital. She’s been volunteering at IU Health Ball Memorial since she was in her 70s.

She drives to the Muncie hospital and looks forward to meeting the staff at the same hospital where her husband underwent several heart surgeries.

“These volunteers are proof positive of what healthy living is all about – they are keeping up with a routine, moving around, and socializing,” said Sandra Hoover, director of volunteer services. In her 30 plus years with IU Health, Hoover said she has never seen so many volunteers who are older adults actively participating in the hospital setting.

Volunteers at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital have collectively given more than 66,000 hours of service. More than 500 volunteers have served in various roles at the hospital ranging from patient services in the Emergency Room to clerks in the gift shop.

The most senior volunteer is a 95-year-old gentleman who works at the patient care desk greeting visitors. Retired from General Motors, Oran “Bud” Birt joined the volunteer effort out of dedication to his late wife, who also volunteered at the hospital for more than 50 years.

Birt said his favorite part of volunteering is being able to help people that are coming to the hospital. He said he knows they are already hurting so if he can be kind and help them, it’s worth his time. He also likes to show his appreciation to the nursing staff for all their hard work.

One volunteer, Fran Constant, 91 works in the emergency room as a patient ambassador and has dedicated more than 7,000 hours of service in the past 18 years.

She says her favorite thing about volunteering is meeting new people and helping others. She also enjoys meeting other volunteers.

Jo Holbrook, 80, is a retired Kindergarten teacher who always dreamed of working in a hospital.

“I always wanted to be a candy striper but we didn’t have the transportation back then. I promised myself when I retired, I’d volunteer at the hospital,” said Holbrook, who is going on 20 years in her post with patient services.

The Muncie hospital routinely has senior volunteers working from home – sewing and knitting projects for patients and helping organize events, but rarely have there been so many accomplished people working on site, said Hoover.

“This is a vibrant group and I’m thrilled that we can foster an environment that embraces their talents,” said Hoover. “This is just part of their routine. They don’t look at it as anything grand. They are all very humble but it’s a shining example of healthy lifestyles giving back to our hospital community.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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