By Haley Jones
As I sat with Delphine Holston, interviewing her to get the last story from the longest volunteer Memorial Health System (MHS) has to date, with 27 years, what l already knew about this amazing lady only became more concrete. And what I knew was this. She has a heart of gold, she is still sharp as a whip at her glorious age of 87, and she has, no doubt, lived a very fulfilling life.
After giving her time to so many places for so many years, she has decided to slow down a little and take some time for herself. She has not only been a volunteer for MHS, logging over 11,600 hours, but she has logged volunteer hours at the Eisenhower Center, Great Plains Theatre, St. Andrew’s Church, and Old Abilene Town. She is also a member of the Dickinson County Retired School Personnel organization, and with all the hours that she has submitted to them for MHS, made it easy for them to nominate her for the Quiet Hero award which the Abilene Chamber of Commerce presented to her in 2019.
Delphine remembers fondly how she came to be a volunteer at MHS. She and her late husband Gene, who had a heart for giving equal to hers, started volunteering together after he retired from farming. She told me, “Gene did not plan to farm until the day he died. He had a plan to farm until he turned 65, and he did that, then we sold the farm near Navarre where we raised our three children, and moved to town.” By that time, she had retired from teaching after nine years at Garfield Elementary School, and 22 years in the Chapman school district. Together they decided to devote their time to others and give back to their community. Her admiration for her husband’s willingness to give to others could be witnessed as she told me about the night he literally died in the act of giving. “We lived on the west side of town, close to the gas station. Gene was very concerned for this young pregnant woman who worked there at the time. He didn’t think she should have to take the heavy trash out by herself, especially at night time and in her condition, so he would always help. He was one of the regular coffee drinkers that gathered at the tables they used to have there, so he was there a lot. One time somebody I was talking to mentioned him working there, and I said, well, that’s news to me!” she laughed. “I never saw him bring home a paycheck. Anyway, one of the nights he was there helping he dropped. They called the ambulance. He was gone after that……… He died doing what he loved doing, which was helping people.” Even though this is her goodbye story, anyone privileged enough to listen to it would know that it cannot be told without talking about the other main character. She asked that I include Gene so that he could be remembered for all that he did for this community as well.
The volunteer corps had only come together just a few years prior to Delphine and Gene becoming volunteers. She credits their late friend, John Zutavern, for getting them involved. She said, “at that time you had to pay dues. Some members paid the dues and volunteered; others just paid their dues to be a ‘member of the club’. Gene did all of the recycling runs. He was actually scheduled to come in on the Friday before he passed away.” During her 27 years of volunteering, Delphine has worked at the information desk, helped with filing in the medical records department, worked on various projects, won an imaginary trip to Hawaii for being the top cookbook seller, and helped run the gift shop. She has been around long enough to know the last three CEOs, including the current CEO, Harold Courtois, and has worked alongside every Volunteer Director, including the very first one, Karen Shoenbeck. She also served as the Volunteer Board President for two years. She has considered quitting for a while now, but held off a little bit longer to help the current Volunteer Director, McKenzie Funston. “With McKenzie leaving soon, I thought it was finally time to take my leave too,” she said.
The majority of Delphine’s hours have been spent in the Caring Hearts Gift Shop. It opened 10 years ago and has been running steady ever since. “We have always been open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm,” she said. “I worked three days a week from 8:00am to noon when it first opened, but after all these years I had to cut back some.”
Delphine was not born here at Memorial Hospital, but she was born here in Abilene at her grandparent’s house. Her mother’s doctor, Dr. Henshaw, came to Abilene from Bennington to make a house call to bring Delphine into the world. She explained, “doctors did this back then; they would come to your house to deliver your baby if that is was you preferred.” Although Delphine does not have a new baby souvenir from Memorial Hospital, as a volunteer, she made sure that all babies born here went home with a specially knitted cap made by Delphine. This was a project that Delphine started in the summer of 1997, and after doing this for the last 25 years, she approximates that she has probably knitted close to 1,500 baby caps. “McKenzie was born here”, she told me, “and it was fun to find out that she has one of the caps I knitted.”
Delphine’s first experience at Memorial Hospital was in 1946 when she was just 10 years old and she had to have her appendix removed. She painted a clear picture of this memory for me. It was summer and the hospital had no air conditioning. Delphine remembered, “there were no IVs back then to manage the pain; you were given a big shot!” If that wasn’t scary enough, during her surgery, her appendix ruptured. This complication landed her a week-long stay in the hospital. To add to this already interesting glimpse into her first memory of Memorial Hospital, she also mentioned that it was Dr. Kenneth Conklin who performed the surgery on her. If you are acquainted with the history of Memorial Hospital, then you know his name. In fact, we have a conference room named after him. If you are like me, and enjoy making historical connections, then that fun fact probably fascinates you too!
I think most of the employees, past and present, will agree with me that Delphine Holston has been a valuable member of the MHS family since the day she became a volunteer. She left me with these parting words, “This has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. I got to meet so many people, young and old, and I got along with everyone, and everyone has been so kind to me. I would say that I got more than I gave.”
In closing, I can honestly say that I left this interview feeling honored to hear her story and even more honored to be the one to write it. Delphine, you will be missed, and we thank you for all that you have given to MHS and your community!