There are people we meet throughout our lives who challenge us, those who inspire us to do and be better than we are routinely. Think for a minute, who fits that description in your life? Who is it that has motivated you to be different, better?
Ruth Jean Hawkins is one of these folks. She turned 93 this month and for more than 40 years, one day each week, she bounces into Briar Hill Health Care in Middlefield with her bag of goodies in search of someone who needs a smile or a hug.
This routine began when her only daughter worked at Briar Hill. “A mother just has to nose in, you know,” she laughs. “I had to see what my daughter was doing.”
Ruth Jean was born in Warren, Ohio in 1924. In 1941, the family moved to West Farmington; later Ruth Jean graduated Farmington High School. She and her late husband, Dick, adopted a son, and then added another son and daughter to complete their family. After seeing a need in the community, Ruth Jean and Dick, with funds from a Village-acquired grant, started the West Farmington Senior Center. For 35 years, she was their director. Because of who she is, and her connection with the seniors and their families in the Village, her home was open to friends and neighbors at all times. “Everyone knew where my key was,” she smiles. “Sometimes, I would come home to a prepared meal, because a friend knew I didn’t have the time to cook.”
In later years, Dick developed dementia, and Ruth Jean managed his care in their home. The one-day-a-week at Briar had become appreciated therapy for her. “Every Wednesday I come in and go up and down the hall carrying my bag (which contains easy-chew corn puffs) looking for someone who needs me,” she says. Some days she has dinner with a resident or maybe a tea party. “We had an engagement party for a couple here, once,” she smiles. Later, this couple was married at Briar.
“She has dedicated her life to the folks at Briar,” says Anderson Ohman, owner/administrator. “She brings so much joy to our residents.”
“The nurses know not to put anyone to sleep, when I’m coming,” laughs Ruth Jean. “There was a man who when I first saw him, would never smile. I was determined, now he always smiles and looks forward to my visits.”
She is humble about her service. “I don’t look for praise for what I do,” she says. “God does it. I just do what I know He wants me to do.”
Ruth Jean impacts many outside of Briar Hill as well. She can’t help it. “I can walk down the street, and I see it in people’s eyes.” Recently, while visiting her daughter in Florida, she noticed a lady in a grocery store picking up produce, noting the price and putting it back down. “She never put anything in her basket,” says Ruth Jean. Feeling empathy, she approached and eventually hugged her. “The lady grabbed hold of me and told me how much she needed a hug.” Ruth Jean took time to get to know the lady, bought her dinner and never saw her again. She also visits two local food banks each week, picks up and delivers food for folks she knows are in need.
What is it about Ruth Jean? Why is it, wherever she goes, the mood of the room or party is uplifted. People seem to seek her out just to receive a hug or a hello. Whomever she encounters, they are made to feel special. Ruth Jean doesn’t claim any motivation or incentive; it is just the way she is made. But she does say, “You have to give to receive, and I love to see a smile and hear a thank you.” Her actions are purposeful. She determines to be an encourager to all.
To the one who is considering volunteering, she simply says, “Do it, somebody needs you.”
Ruth Jean recalls the many changes that have taken place in the Briar Hill Health Care campus over the years. She remembers when the building was small and the current reception area was a kitchen. For Ruth Jean’s 93rd birthday, the staff at Briar surprised her with a party. Her dedication and impact on the staff and residents is immeasurable. She has been personally invited to witness the ground breaking for the new 23,000 sq. ft., 24 private-room post-acute rehab wing to be added to the existing Briar Hill Health Care facility, to be announced later this year.
There are many opportunities to volunteer with Ohman Family Communities, whether it be to sit with someone for a meal, play a game, or just provide some companionship for a time. You too, can leave an indelible mark on a life and receive unexpected knowledge and friendship in return. For more information, call any of the Ohman Family Communites’ facilities.