Helen Gladwin began volunteering at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center in 1951 under the sponsorship of the American Red Cross with a neighbor who had lost a son at Pearl Harbor. Her neighbor stopped her service as a volunteer a year later, but Gladwin found her vocation. Forty-eight years later and at 97 years old, Gladwin has volunteered a remarkable 89,513 hours. Gladwin lives in Clifton Springs, New York, and although she doesn’t drive she managed to volunteer at this facility four days a week, 9 hours a day until last year when she suffered an injury. Employees at this facility routinely transport Gladwin to and from the VA Medical Center.
Presently, Gladwin’s volunteer assignment is as a companion therapist to the many men and women who have served our country. Many hospitalized veterans lack the companionship from friends and relatives within the community. Gladwin fills that void and despite her fixed income, at her own expense, she mails hundreds of birthday and holiday greetings to veterans, personalizing each with her poetry. Gladwin takes the place of “family” for many of the veterans housed at the VA Medical Center or in community residential care homes that find themselves alone and feeling alienated.
Until an injury caused her to modify her activities and reduce her volunteer hours to two days per week, 8 hours per day, Gladwin’s dedication and sincere commitment to patients’ needs was apparent through her daily routine. She often escorted wheelchair dependent patients through the courtyard, to the library, to the hospital store and assisting in escorting patients to local restaurants. Gladwin currently ambulates with the assistance of a walker, but her hospitalization has not lessened what she sees as her obligation. On many occasions, she can be found providing gratifying conversation and feeding patients who tend to thrive on knowing her next visit will be soon. Her energy, quick wit and sense of humor are qualities that are cherished by all.
In February 1996, one of the buildings at the VAMC was re-named in her honor. Since the Medical Center is a federal facility, it literally took an act of Congress to see it through. Several pictures of Gladwin hang in the day room of Gladwin Hall where patients and staff are reminded of her commitment to the veterans who have given so much to make this country great. Although her frailness at the age of 97 is becoming more apparent, Gladwin remains an inspiration to volunteers and employees who have had the pleasure of working with her.
Helen Gladwin is a Buffalo native and graduated from Syracuse University in 1927.