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Hospital greeter relished decades of hellos

Published April 27, 2007


Wilda Knapp was 88 years old, and she hadn't worked full time in 50 years. Then she landed the job of her dreams.

The transition back into the work force wasn't difficult. The job she landed, as a "greeter" at Tampa General Hospital, was the same one she had done on a volunteer basis for more than a quarter of a century.

By the time she finally called it quits in 2003, Mrs. Knapp was 94 years old. She had been at her station, behind the information desk at the hospital's busiest entrance, five days a week, from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. since 1970.

"She hardly ever even took lunch breaks, said her son, John Knapp. "She didn't want anyone else to do her job. The fact is, she didn't trust anyone else to do it."

Mrs. Knapp passed away peacefully April 16 after several months of declining health. She was 97.

She had first come to TGH shortly after moving to Tampa with her husband, John. He was an Episcopal priest who had recently become a TGH chaplain.

"He came to Tampa General, and she just tagged along with him," her son said. "Maybe there's something I can do here to keep busy," she said then.

Mrs. Knapp believed that staying active was the key to a long, happy and healthy life. She got up at 4:30 every morning and walked to work from her home on Davis Islands for more than 30 years. (For the last several years, the hospital sent a car to pick her up each morning.)

After work, she headed to the hospital's fitness room and spent a half hour on the stationary bike. She did that until she was well into her 90s.

She demanded the same kind of energy and commitment from her daughter and four sons.

"When we were kids, she thought that the summer months, those three months away from academia, were a horrible waste," John said. "So our friends were out playing and relaxing, but not the Knapp kids. It was summer school for us."

The Knapp kids may not have enjoyed spending summers in the classroom, he said, but they never doubted their mother's love for the family.

Her love for her Tampa General job was evident, too. Employees looked forward to her cheerful greetings every morning. In a Times article about Mrs. Knapp in 2003, one co-worker described her as "perky."

One of the few times her son recalls seeing Mrs. Knapp unhappy was the day six years ago when she learned that TGH was turning her volunteer position into a paid staff job. She was crushed and didn't know how she would cope with the loss, until a family member suggested she apply for the paying position.

She got the job, and at age 88 started getting a paycheck.

She had worked for many years as a substitute teacher in Dade City and Avon Park, but the Tampa General job was her first full-time position since World War II, when she set up the post exchange at an Army camp in Wisconsin.

A few years ago, Mrs. Knapp broke her hip and spent several days as a TGH patient.

"She made them put her in a wheelchair and take her down to the information desk," her son said. "She kept working even while she was an inpatient at the hospital. That's how much she loved that job."

Besides her son John, Mrs. Knapp is survived by sons Charles and Michael, daughter Susan Jane Knapp Marler, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

She is predeceased by her husband and one son.

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 07:55:18]

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