Volunteers: Last at the old hospital, first at the new medical center
St. Anthony's volunteers, Delphine Holleman and Irma Briggs, recall unforgettable experiences at both the old and new hospital.
Irma Briggs - 1980s
Delphine Holleman - 1980s
Delphine Holleman and Irma Briggs
On a warm fall day, forty-five years ago this September 2013, Delphine Holleman of south St. Louis County walked through the doors of the old St. Anthony’s Hospital at Grand Boulevard and Chippewa Street to assume her new role as a hospital volunteer. Her aunt Delphine, the hospital’s nursing director, recommended her for the job.
Before her, in the main lobby, was the information desk, and beyond were the doors of what hospital administrators called “the chapel.”
“It wasn't really a chapel,” Delphine recalled. “It was as big as a church; it seemed so big. It was an amazing experience, going to the old hospital.”
Seven years later, some of the stained-glass windows and other fixtures from the chapel were saved and used to build the chapel of the new St. Anthony’s Medical Center, which opened in March 1975 at Tesson Ferry and Kennerly Roads. The old hospital was razed.
Delphine moved her volunteer work to the new medical center. She was joined by Irma Briggs of south St. Louis County, one of the first volunteers to begin working at the new medical center in the spring of 1975. Irma was the mother of three boys, two of whom were born at the old St. Anthony’s Hospital. She began her volunteer work after her youngest had finished high school.
Although the hospital by this time was administered by a lay board of directors and administration, several nuns from the founding order, the Franciscan Sisters of Germany, continued to serve there. Irma recalls driving them downtown to Cardinals baseball games, going with them to a nearby ice cream parlor that offered delicious drumsticks, and going apple-picking at a nearby orchard.
“I lived in this neighborhood, so I was familiar with the whole area,” Irma recalled. “I remember when this (property) was just woods: when they put in the hospital, things really started building. It was very nice working with the nuns, and it changed my life a lot. I met a lot of nice people.”
Both Delphine and Irma delivered interoffice mail for a time. Irma also worked at the information desk, print shop, recovery room, and in a variety of departments, wherever needed. She took home hospital mailings to complete at night, and helped out on weekends with cancer screenings and flu shot clinics. She also purchased baby clothes and accessories to be sold in the hospital gift shop.
“About anyplace they needed me, I would go and help out,” Irma recalled. “I enjoyed it, I really did.
“When we’d take mail to the different rooms, some of the patients waited for us and wanted to talk,” Irma added. “One young woman had been in a terrible accident and was going to be in the hospital for a year, and really looked forward to our visits. It makes you really appreciate life, and how fortunate you are. I've gotten very close with a lot of employees, and we meet for our birthdays still to this day.”
Delphine worked in Nursing Services and the Nursery at the old hospital, and today divides her time between the Mailroom and the Fern and Russell F. de Greeff Hospice House. Delphine, who lost her father in 1995 and her mother in 2005, was impressed by the peacefulness of hospice care. At the urging of Chaplain Bill Sinak, she began working as a volunteer at the hospice house in 2006.
“After going through my experience with the illnesses and deaths of my mom and pop, I hope I can give the patients and their families compassion and help them find their inner peace,” she said. “I think volunteering helps you appreciate all the different kinds of people there are, and appreciate how lucky you are.”
In April, Delphine, 66, was honored at the annual volunteer appreciation luncheon as the longest-serving active volunteer at St. Anthony’s, and the only remaining volunteer who had served at the old hospital. Delphine and three other women from St. Anthony’s also prepare 120 sandwiches each month for the men in the homeless shelter at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Soulard.
Irma, 89, served more than 30,000 volunteer hours at the medical center before she was forced by health problems to curtail her activity, about five years ago.
Both Delphine and Irma agree the medical center has undergone many changes since 1968 and 1975: in size, structure and technology. The people who make up St. Anthony’s, however, remain much the same.
“I think that’s the main thing: the friends you make,” Irma said. “St. Anthony’s has some wonderful people. I've met so many good, nice friends over here, and they’re friends to this day.”
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