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Helen Hilgers Retires After Volunteering For Over 60 Years at CHI Mercy Health

1:09 AM · Jan 26, 2023

In the summer of 1962, Helen Hilgers was a teacher at Toketee School near Toketee Falls. She was a newly married woman in her twenties teaching first and second grade at the school Monday through Friday and playing the organ at her church on Sundays. When a friend suggested she volunteer at what was then Mercy Hospital on her day off, Hilgers agreed to try it out. Tomorrow, Helen Hilgers is retiring after volunteering over 43,400 hours at CHI Mercy Health over the past 60 years. Now 88 years old, Hilgers is a spry, witty woman wearing sharp suits and is still setting the example as a volunteer. Over her time at Mercy, she helped with patient service which included delivering the coffee cart and magazines and serving in Mercy’s very first gift shop. The gift shop supported visitors and staff and raised funds for hospital needs. She also volunteered at the surgery desk, wrote the gift shop column for the hospital bulletin, worked the information desk and so much more. When she started, the volunteers were called the auxiliary or the “pink ladies.” “It's an old term. They used to wear pink jackets and you could spot them in the hospital because they had on pink,” Director of Volunteer Services Teresa Scott said. “The volunteer department would not be what it is today without Helen Hilgers. She was a great model for the way things should be done and she had the vision to see what was needed and made it happen.” Eventually, Hilgers was elected president of the auxiliary, then the region of Oregon, then the region of the Pacific Northwest, and finally the whole west coast for hospital volunteers. Hilgers acknowledges that her desire to help others comes from her family's tradition of volunteering and the influence of her parents. “My mom and dad were both volunteers and in fact, they were still volunteering with meals on wheels until my dad quit driving,” Hilgers said. “They volunteered in church, my dad volunteered at his job and we just grew up doing things like that, we helped them deliver meals. My grandmother lived with us for probably 15 years after my grandfather died. We learned how to treat older people, and that's part of the volunteering.” Hilgers' husband Martin Hilgers is the one who reportedly asked her to retire so they could spend their golden years together. “But it's all been fun, it's all been great,” Hilgers said. “I wouldn't be happy just doing nothing. And I really don't want to quit but when you're 88 years old, you deserve to be able to sit down and do nothing and Marty wants me to. What I like about volunteering is that you meet wonderful people.” Volunteering is something that has impacted Hilgers’ life and she had some advice on how to get a new volunteer started. “Well, my first thing would be if you see someone you think would be a good volunteer, ask them,” Hilgers said. “Because many people don't have the push to do it themselves.” In addition to her fundraising efforts, Hilgers was able to save CHI Mercy Health an estimated $1.22 million in paid staff funds. This funding has allowed the hospital to pay for trained and certified staff to keep the rural hospital operational. In 2020, volunteers were restricted from helping in the hospital for their health. Scott said the absence of the volunteers was difficult on everyone. ”The staff was very upset that they weren't here,” Scott said. “It was not the same place without the volunteers. They, almost all of them, said that “can't we just come. We will sign anything, any waiver.’” “I'll miss it,” Hilgers said before laughing. “And I'll also miss the food in the cafeteria!” On average, the 61 volunteers at Mercy contribute 700 hours of time per month to serving staff and patients in a myriad of ways. If you or someone you know may be interested in serving at CHI Mercy Health, visit

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