Suzanne Baker enjoys helping other people. It’s something the Benton resident has done her entire life. It seems, however, that Baker, 79, is busier today than ever before.
As the volunteer coordinator for the Franklin Hospital Auxiliary, she works to help make hospital stays more comfortable for her neighbors and friends.
“Mostly, all of us volunteers go up and work in same day surgery more or less to make our patients more comfortable,” she said. “We don’t do anything medical, but just seeing to our patients comfort and making them more relaxed,”
“Our patients.” Baker calls those admitted to the hospital or other seeking treatment there “our patients” because she has a real sense of ownership when it comes to Franklin Hospital.
“I am passionate about the hospital and I know it’s good for me to get out there and help,” she said. “The hospital opened the year I graduated from high school. My children were born there and every surgery I’ve had has been done there.”
In fact, it was Baker and a few other concerned residents who worked to boost the hospital during times when the facility’s future was in down several years ago and she was instrumental in re-establishing the auxiliary.
“That’s when I decided to volunteer and I’ve been going from there,” she said.
She volunteers personally several days a week and coordinates the scheduling of other volunteers.
“That’s a lot of time spent on the phone,” she said. “We have more than 100 volunteers.”
Baker trains new volunteers, staffs the information desk and even developed policies and procedures for hospital volunteers as well as tracks volunteer hours for all that serve.
Helping others is nothing new for Baker. After attending Southern Illinois University, getting married and having children, Baker volunteered in church and assisted with school activities. She also worked as a teacher’s aide and paraprofessional, as an aide for a student.
“I went through the grade school, middle school and high school, primarily with that one student. We were very close; she was like a granddaughter to me.”
Baker said she was proud when the young lady who passed away not long ago graduated from college. She said that’s when she really decided to begin volunteering, helping others, but particularly focusing on young people.
“I seems like I have always been involved with helping the next generation,” she said. “I enjoy seeing our youth do well.”
She serves on the hospital auxiliary’s scholarship committee and has even chaired the group. The organization organizes a variety of fundraisers to provide assistance to Benton Community High School students pursuing careers in health care.
“We give as many as 12 scholarships each year for as much as $1,000 each. We’ve given dozen of awards over the years. That’s what I find fun — reading the applications and seeing the talented and educated kids as well as learning all that they do. It makes me feel good about the next generation,” she said, adding that one previous recipient is now a physician in Carbondale. “I’m very proud of that.”
Still, she does not see herself as a leader.
“I’ve never been one to be out front. I’d rather do things behind the scenes. For her the rewards of all she does are personal.
“I like the people that come in and need help I like helping them,” she said, explaining that she will continue as long as she can. “I’m going to have to slow down because I don’t have the energy I used to have, but I have to have something to do. I can’t just sit.”