Hospice Volunteer at 98 and Counting

Published in The Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL

May 15, 2012

by Teresa Campbell     theresacampbell@dailycommercial.com


Cornerstone Hospice Volunteer Mary Russell is surprised by Julia Allen, Community Relations Manager, at her 98th birthday party.


Mary Russell, Cornerstone Hospice Volunteer, poses with Julia Allen and Mary's 98th Birthday Cake.

Cornerstone Hospice’s oldest volunteer is just two years shy from her 100th birthday, and Mary Russell believes her 21 years as a volunteer receptionist for the nonprofit organization just may be the secret to her longevity.


Living a long life was not in her family’s genes.  

“They all died young, in their 50s,” said the 98-year-old Leesburg great-grandmother, who lives alone and still drives her car. Each Wednesday she makes the trip over to Cornerstone Hospice’s office in Tavares, where she greets visitors and staff members from the front desk and handles phone calls from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.



Mary Russell works her weekly shift at the front desk at Cornerstone Hospice's headquarters in Tavares, as she has for 21 years.


“I love it here and I love everybody; they’re just so kind,” she said. “It’s a wonderful organization, and I want people to know if anything happens to any of them and they want good care, this is the place.”


She also cherishes the hospice care her late husband of 47 years received five years ago.


Russell was stunned when Cornerstone Hospice employees surprised her with a birthday luncheon last week in honor of turning 98.
“I can’t believe all this!” she said. “I just said there are all these nice people at hospice.”


Cornerstone employees believe their oldest volunteer deserved all the fuss.


“Someone’s 98th(birthday) is worthy of observance, but someone of this age -- who has dedicated the last two decades of her life to volunteering for hospice, so clear-minded and active, courteously responding the many phone calls as are received by our front desk -- is indeed deserving of recognition,” said Manny Hernandez, public information officer.


“She is just a ray of sunshine on our Wednesday mornings,” added Julia Allen, community relations manager. “Mary is sharp as a tack and is one amazing woman.”


Lisa Gray, manager of volunteers, touts Russell as an inspiration for volunteerism.  “To think she is doing this at 98, every week for four hours,” Gray said. “I admire her great attitude and her dedication. She never misses a day unless she goes up North one week to visit her daughter and she is totally dependable. She just has a great attitude and she just keeps going and going. I think that’s what keeps her young is the fact that she just enjoys life and she does for others.”


Formerly of Kokomo, Ind., Russell worked as assistant manager in the cafeteria at Chrysler for 17 years, before she and her husband moved to Florida in 1976. She was active on the state level as a volunteer for the Moose, and she continues to be involved in the Moose here.


“I try to spread the word what hospice does,” she said of telling her friends in Moose about hospice.   Every chance she gets, Russell encourages other seniors with free time to consider becoming hospice volunteers.   “Volunteer. Find out what it’s like,” she said. “It’s great to help people.”


“The opportunities are really endless,” added Lisa Gray, who noted hospice volunteers can do whatever appeals to them, such as doing office jobs and positions that do not involve patient contact, to other roles such as running errands, helping at hospice houses, providing respite care for the main caregiver who needs a break.
Cornerstone Hospice is looking for more hospice volunteers. The agency’s next volunteer training session will be 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 5 and June 12 at Blessed Sacrament Church, 720 12th St., Clermont.

Seeking volunteers
Cornerstone Hospice needs volunteers for office jobs, visit patients, run errands, etc.
What: Training session for new volunteers.
When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 5 and June 12. Lunch and snacks will be provided.
Where: Blessed Sacrament Church, 720 – 12th St., Clermont
Call: Ann Sheridan, 742-6895; Sandy Acht, 702-1229, Lisa Gray, volunteer manager, 742-6806 or call toll-free (888) 728-6234


About Cornerstone: Since 1984, Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc., a not-for-profit community-based healthcare organization, has provided care and services to central Florida residents experiencing life-limiting illnesses. To learn more, visit www.cornerstonehospice.org  or www.SeriousIllness.org/Cornerstone.