by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
On the darkest days, sometimes all it takes is a single ray of light to turn everything around.
For the last 20 years, Louise Colbaugh, 90, has shined in the Oklahoma City metro, volunteering at metro hospitals.
Colbaugh is closing in on three years volunteering at Community Hospital in south Oklahoma City but before that she gave 17 years at Hillcrest and eventually St. Anthony.
“I enjoyed it,” she said of her decades of unpaid service. “I don’t know. It’s just a way of life after awhile, you get up and go. You don’t sit at home and watch television or whatever.”
Colbaugh stayed home until almost 45, rearing a son and a daughter before heading out into the workforce.
Her son moved on to the paper products industry in Houston. Her daughter is close by in Moore and retired herself.
Her great granddaughter has already graduated college and is going on to pursue her degree as a physician’s assistant.
Attending graduation for her great granddaughter was a moment she’ll never forget.
“Wonderful and proud,” beamed Colbaugh, who also has two younger great grandchildren.
After raising kids and before volunteering she went back to school and studied accounting. She worked in the accounting department at Shepler’s western store.
As her husband’s health faltered, she decided she needed better insurance. She worked at Tinker Air Force Base as a civilian in the accounting department, eventually in the AWACs division.
Numbers were numbers, but only a lot more zeroes were at the end of those military budgets.
Colbaugh and her husband celebrated 51 years of marriage before he passed.
“It was bad,” she said of the end. “He had so many heart surgeries before he died. They tried to do surgery on him again and he never came out of it.”
For most who spend time with a loved one during an extended illness, the hospital would be the last place they would want to spend more time. Too many hours of fear and pain.
Colbaugh ran towards it.
“It’s just a way of life. It’s like another home to me,” Colbaugh said. “It gives you a purpose to get up in the morning. You know you’re going to meet people and you’re going to talk. I just like to do it.”
It’s an opportunity for Colbaugh to pour into others. She has stories to share. She’s felt the same feelings.
“It may be something like getting them a cup of coffee or a warm blanket,” Colbaugh explained. “I enjoy doing it and I enjoy talking to the people. It’s satisfying I can help people.”
“Like I say, it’s a way of life for me now.”
Colbaugh’s journey to Community Hospital began when St. Anthony closed its gift shop. A few of her fellow volunteers made the trip as well.
“Some people they’ll sit home and don’t do anything and then they wonder why they feel so bad,” Colbaugh said. “If they only knew how satisfying it was they would run for it really. That includes men and women. I work with both.”
“And there’s always somebody coming in and they see what you’re doing and they want to volunteer, too, but it’s getting farther and farther in between.”
Community Hospital has two campuses featuring a comprehensive range of medical services offering nursing care in a close-knit, compassionate community.
“You get paid. You get paid with gratitude and the thank-you’s you get,” Colbaugh said. “Men especially say ‘thank you for being a volunteer.’ That just makes me feel good.”
“And Roxy (Kostuck) our manager she is so good to all of us. She has Valentine’s parties and she gave me a 90th birthday party and it was wonderful.”
She immediately used the gift certificate she received to splurge on a cashmere sweater.
Colbaugh typically volunteers every Monday and Tuesday, coming in at 8 a.m. and working until 2 p.m.
She grabs the cart filled with complimentary items and goes room to room checking on patients and their families asking if they need anything.
From there she goes to the surgery waiting room.
“I go in and see what I can do for them,” she said. “And then I come back and Roxy always has something. I wrap a lot of gifts. They give away so much I can’t believe a hospital does that.”
As you might expect, Colbaugh is a big fan of volunteering her time. She’s quick to share her experience when others ask.
“I would tell them they would appreciate coming up here once they started,” Colbaugh said. “It would be good for them and they would get lots of exercise. I think they would love it.”