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Volunteer is a caring woman on the move


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001

[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital volunteer Henrietta Baker fills in a menu for Sally Franklin at her bedside. Baker, 89, volunteers three days a week in the food service department at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Largo.
LARGO -- She doesn't drive an automobile any longer, but transportation for 89-year-old Henrietta Baker of Largo includes riding a tricycle and walking.

Her travel destinations aren't far from the mobile home park in which she lives. Sometimes she is en route to visit a neighbor, and three days a week she volunteers at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital & Outpatient Centers.

Baker helps people who temporarily are unable to help themselves. "I don't like to cook anymore, and I don't sing or dance, but I am a good visitor," she said. "I sit with neighbors in the park who are sick or unable to get around and mostly just talk with them and keep them company. I don't cook though, hardly even for myself. Sometimes people just need to know they are important to somebody, and a visit helps cheer them up."

Baker herself has been laid up with sickness and surgery. She has undergone open-heart surgery, a broken shoulder and gangrene in her gallbladder; consequently, she says, she can relate to the need to have someone care enough to just visit and listen.

"That gallbladder problem was a real doozy," she said. "For the most part I have a pretty healthy life. The Lord has been very good to me for nearly 90 years, and I think a few more are in store." Her birthday is Feb. 23.

Baker has helped others even from her early years. As a homemaker and mother, she spent much of her time caring for her husband, Russell, and three children. Their oldest son, Russell, 64, lives in the same park, not far from her mobile home; their youngest, Jonathan, in Texas; daughter Judith Olson, 62, in New York.

Baker lived in Aurora, N.Y., until 1978, when she moved to Pinellas County after her husband's death. She quickly became bored and began to volunteer.

"At HealthSouth, I try to help people who are not able to do things for themselves," Baker said. "I remember one middle-age lady was there recuperating from two broken arms she injured in an auto accident. She couldn't do a lot for herself without the use of arms. One simple but essential thing she needed help with was making out her menu each day I was there."

Mary Phillips, Baker's supervisor at HealthSouth, says her senior volunteer walks about a mile and a half each day she works with the patients.

"This lady is a real go-getter," Phillips said. "Henrietta makes our patients feel important. She sits and works with them like she has all the time in the world to spend with them. She helps them with their menus each day she is here and often just sits and talks with them. Every time she comes here, she walks. Rain, cold or hot days make no difference. She is always on time and never seems to be in a rush."

"Walking and riding the bike is healthy and safer than driving," Baker said. "Helping others is healthy, too. I get back much more than I could possibly give. As long as I am able, I will continue to help others who need me."

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Know of interesting people to profile? Write to Terry Jones c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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