99-year-old volunteer has a huge heart for others

Billie Tate makes a purchase from Connie Dickinson, volunteer at Calder Woods

Connie Dickinson, a lovely Calder Woods resident, defies all we think we know about aging. To put it mildly, this woman is simply amazing. Connie has a Texas-sized heart for others and demonstrates it in her many volunteer efforts, and she says she has no plans for slowing down any time soon. She will celebrate her 100th birthday on Oct. 18. 

In an interview held in the spacious library of the Beaumont retirement community, Connie told The Examiner she has called Calder Woods home for some nine years. Connie was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, where her father was a district manager for S.H. Kress. She was third in line of seven children, with three brothers and three sisters. The family relocated to Little Rock when her father’s job sent him there, and later to Memphis. Connie’s grandparents lived in Beaumont, and she treasured the summers and other visits she was able to share with them. She fell in love with the grandparents’ next door neighbor and married Murray Dickinson in 1943. They would go on to share 59 blessed years together before Murray’s death. Murray was a valued employee of what is now called Chevron, and Connie worked for a little more than 25 years for Sun Oil Company before retiring.

Murray and Connie had no children, but were very active in the community and joined the St. John Lutheran Church in 1943 where Connie still serves faithfully.

“I knew when I retired that I needed to do something more,” said the vivacious lady. “I checked around and found out through my friend and neighbor, Charlotte Castle, that Baptist Hospital had needs in the way of volunteers, so I signed up, and have been there since. “At nearly 100 years of age, Connie Dickinson is currently the eldest of our ‘Shining in their 90s’ volunteers at Baptist Hospital,” said Vicki Holcombe, director of Volunteer Services. “With over 28 years and nearly 15,000 hours of service, Connie currently volunteers two days each week at the Baptist Beaumont Hospital information desk, where she can be found answering phones and helping patients and family members find their way through the hospital.”

 Holcombe added that Connie averages over 500 hours of volunteer service each year and that Connie’s memory is exceptional. 

“She can quote many of our telephone numbers from memory and can give precise, clear directions for any of our areas, including the three towers. Having served so long, she is familiar with many of our patients’ and family members’ needs,” Holcombe said.

Connie says she chooses to volunteer Monday and Saturday because those are the two most difficult days to recruit help. “People are so busy with families, travel, and other weekend activity on those days,” said the thoughtful worker.

Holcombe, who clearly has a very soft spot in her heart for Connie, said, “Connie was one of the very first volunteers I met when I came to work for the hospital over 15 years ago. She has always been a joy to work with for all of us. Some of her fellow volunteers have commented to me that they enjoy working with Connie because she is always pleasant to be around. These good traits make her an oft-requested substitute for many shifts.

Fridays, one may find Connie manning the desk at the Calder Woods Gift Shop where she enjoys serving customers and answering questions. This is another of her purely volunteer ventures, and she enjoys meeting the various residents and their guests.

Asking Connie how she gets back and forth to the hospital, church, and her other engagements brought forth a puzzled look on her face. “What do you mean?” she asked. 

Perhaps Calder Woods provides a bus or van for resident outings …

Connie laughed out loud and said, “Well, I simply go downstairs and get in my car and drive wherever I want to go.” 

Connie also provides transportation for some of the other residents in the center. One of the residents said that when they need something picked up or transportation to a local place, they call Connie.

Not all of Connie’s sisters and brothers have matched her longevity. Connie, shaking her head rather sadly, said, “No, two of my brothers died early. They only lived to be 89.” But her sister Charlotte, who resides in her own home in Memphis, still does her own housework, takes care of her home, drives back and forth to her engagements and meetings, and like her younger sister, volunteers three days each week at a local hospital there. She is 103 years young. Charlotte and Connie talk almost every day by phone and visit from time to time.

Both women believe that they were blessed with longevity by their dad’s grandmother, who lived to be a healthy 104 years old. Her dad hailed from Holland and came to America through Ellis Island.

Connie enjoys reading as a pastime and has a wide variety of choices in books, but her favorite author of late is James Patterson, and she has read all of his books. Given her choice, she would vacation in Canada, and her very favorite food is good cornbread and turnip greens. The cornbread would not be made with sugar. She said when she first married Murray, she made cornbread the way her mom did and added a small amount of sugar. She soon learned that Texans did not add sugar, and Murray told her that sugar made it a cake and not cornbread. She also enjoys a good beef stew. She loves football and watches most of the games during the season. She joins other residents in some of the table games and particularly enjoys Rumi Cube.

If Connie’s philosophy of living could be summed up in a simple statement, she said with some seriousness, “I’d like to think I treat others as I would want to be treated.”

 

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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