At age 99, St. Mary’s Volunteer is Kitchener’s Senior of the Year

June 6th, 2017

Violet Cook with a customerMartha Stauch and Violet CookViolet Cook with Pauline RasmussenKitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic with Violet CookViolet Cook with Kenzie Shantz

Violet Cook’s story was featured in the Waterloo Region Record on Saturday, June 10, 2017. Read more.

Volunteer Violet Cook rings through a customer purchase in the gift shop at St. Mary’s General Hospital, handling the electronic till and debit machine with ease. Known to all as Vi, she embraces technology, which wouldn’t be particularly remarkable except for one thing – Vi is 99 years old. She was born in 1917, seven years before St. Mary’s opened and decades before the electronic era.

“I love to learn and the more I can learn the happier I am,” says the St. Mary’s volunteer of 26 years who works each Friday in the gift shop.

On May 27, Vi was named Kitchener’s Senior of the Year for 2017. The award is a recognition initiative of the Province of Ontario and each year municipalities can name one resident aged 65-plus to receive it.

She says she is honoured to receive the award, adding it to the long list of blessings in her life, which includes strong ties to St. Mary’s.

“This is the hospital that means so much to me,” says Vi. “I’ve made so many friends here and they are a support for me. I stay because I enjoy the work and the people I work with. A lot of them are half my age and I love them dearly.”

Vi was nominated for the Senior of the Year award by Martha Stauch, a long-time St. Mary’s volunteer and former President of the Volunteer Association. Martha admires Vi’s vitality and selflessness. “She has led a life filled with commitment to family, church and community,” says Martha.

At the award ceremony, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said that Vi “has modelled how to live a long, active and happy life. We’re told all who know her feel blessed to have this truly inspirational woman in their lives.”

Having serious childhood medical issues, Vi developed a resilient nature that has kept her positive and independent. Her connection to St. Mary’s began as a child when she was frequently a patient. She eventually overcame her health challenges and worked for more than 30 years as a bookkeeper. She gave that up when her beloved husband Earl fell ill and was hospitalized at St. Mary’s for more than three months prior to his passing. The compassion and care shown to Earl and her helped inspire Vi to honour his memory in a positive way.

“I decided if I couldn’t go with him I would live with joy in my heart and that is what I have done,” she says. In 1991 she began volunteering in the gift shop, quickly becoming Friday day convenor, a role in which she scheduled and trained many fellow volunteers.  For many years she was treasurer of the Foundation’s Festival of Trees fundraising campaign, working from early morning until late at night.

Many staff and volunteers consider Vi a mother figure. In a letter supporting her nomination Pauline Rasmussen, Manager of Volunteer Resources, and Jan Merli, former Director of Volunteer Resources, wrote that “Vi has left an indelible mark on the many individuals she has touched over the years with her kindness and generosity.”

“She has a special gift of understanding the needs of others and generously giving of herself.”

Over the years, the United Way and YWCA have also benefitted from Vi’s love of volunteering. At St. Mark’s Lutheran Church she has held nearly every volunteer role over 50 years, including choir member, women’s group leader and Sunday school teacher. She still serves communion and is always on the go with church retreats and prayer meetings. In addition to volunteering, Vi plays bridge two or three times a week.

Congratulations to Violet from everyone at St. Mary’s for being named Senior of the Year and for being such a positive role model and friend to so many over the years.