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‘I think it keeps me going’: 96-year-old volunteer reflects on 30 years of service

Virginia Patterson Maeda is a familiar face at Hilo Medical Center.

A long-time volunteer, Maeda, 96 and spry, has managed the hospital auxiliary’s Palm Tree Gift Shop for more than 30 years.

She volunteered at the old Hilo Memorial Hospital before it closed and at the gift shop in a hospital in San Jose, Calif., for more than two decades.

Originally from California, Maeda said she and her late husband, Robert Patterson, came to Hawaii in 1963 with three of their four children. They bought a house on Kinoole Street, but were “kind of back and forth for a while” until the mid-1970s.

“Then we knew we wanted to live here permanently, we wanted to get a different house.”

Shortly after HMC opened in August 1985, the gift shop manager left and the hospital’s CEO asked her to step into the role.

Maeda agreed to do the job for two weeks, “until we find someone.”

That two-week job turned into 34 years.

“I’m happy that I did,” she said. “I hadn’t been the manager of something like that. I didn’t know that I could, but I did and I’m glad that I did. It’s been a good 34 years that I’ve been there.”

As manager, Maeda said she does all the buying for the gift shop, “every bit of it,” pricing, puts everything out and decorates.

Other volunteers help man the gift shop: Judy Leary on Monday, Adeline Correa and Amy Higuchi on Tuesday, Tina Demotta on Wednesday, Jane Boyd on Thursday, Janet Belcher and Jon Patterson on Friday and Lizzie Pankey on Saturday.

“I just really enjoy it. I like doing the buying and now that we’re giving these scholarships — $1,500 ones — we got to work a little harder,” Maeda said with a laugh. “I’m just so happy to be able to do that. I think it keeps me going. I know it does. I’m 96!”

The gift shop is operated by the HMC Auxiliary, a nonprofit organization.

Proceeds from the gift shop are used to support the hospital, including scholarships for nursing students.

The auxiliary has been giving nursing scholarships for more than 40 years. More than $100,000 in nursing scholarships have been given since 2008.

Last Tuesday, Maeda and her husband Garry, the president of the auxiliary, as well as other auxiliary members, helped present the latest round of scholarships and were surprised by past scholarship recipients during a ceremony at the hospital.

The gratitude was outpouring.

As Maeda spoke after the ceremony, the mother of one of the recipients came up.

“Thank you very much,” the woman said. “I appreciate it.”

The auxiliary has also supported large capital improvement projects at the hospital, the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency program, provides refreshments during Hospital Week and donates to the Hilo Medical Center Foundation.

Maeda said the best part of her 34 years volunteering is “Just the camaraderie with the staff here and just being able to give to the community.”

She plans to continue “as long as I’m able.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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