Volunteer Spotlight: John and Lucy Stern

For John and Lucy Stern the We Honor Veterans program at Angela Hospice is much more than just a way to gain volunteer hours. It’s a deep-rooted passion.

“I always call it a labor of love, and labor isn’t really a good word. It’s more of an activity of love,” John said. “We just really, really enjoy it.”

Their enjoyment is clear in a variety of ways but it’s really seen when you look at the program’s numbers. John and Lucy – who spearheaded We Honor Veterans at Angela Hospice – along with the help of 12 other volunteers, have performed over 400 ceremonies since the inception of the program. The most impressive part? They’ve done all those ceremonies in less than four years.

“We thought it was just going to be a couple ceremonies here and there,” Lucy said.

The Sterns first got the idea for bringing the program to Angela Hospice when Lucy found an article about We Honor Veterans in a nursing journal. Lucy, a now retired nurse who has been connected to Angela Hospice since it first began “back in the stone age,” then went to a few staff members about the program. All of them were enthusiastic about it but said they didn’t have time to run something like that. They did encourage John and Lucy to go ahead with it though.

“It’s just something that I totally embraced, because being a veteran I’m pro-veteran,” said John, who served in the Air Force from 1962-1966. “When Lucy brought that home I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

After getting the go-ahead from Angela Hospice, John and Lucy did what most do in this day and age; they went online to get more information about it and get the ball rolling, which hasn’t stopped over the last few years. On top of doing over 400 pinning ceremonies they have already achieved Level 2 status for the program and are working on Level 3, which they said is the hardest of the four levels to achieve.

Now the program runs as smoothly and efficiently as – well, an army watch. First they get a patient’s information. Then they make a phone call where they give their “spiel” about what the program is. John said they usually get a pretty immediate yes or no. If a family says “yes” then they set up a date for the ceremony, which the Sterns are willing to do whenever and wherever works best for the patient.

“Every time we go to a family and the veteran, we thank them…that’s special to us,” John said. “It doesn’t matter if there are two people or 20 people, or 50 people or 100 people, or just the veteran.

“It’s just a treat and a thrill…and see the reaction of the family and loved one,” John continued.

John and Lucy outside the
Care Center.
Each ceremony becomes as unique as the individual receiving it. They’ve done ceremonies in the Angela Hospice Care Center kitchen and local restaurants and one time in a garage that had been turned into an apartment. The locations may change, but each veteran receives a certificate, some military pins, a couple of thank-you letters, and a love blanket made by one of the volunteers. The veterans aren’t the only ones who receive something though, so do John and Lucy.

“There’s a lot of family interaction that we wind up being blessed with seeing,” Lucy said.

One example would be when a daughter set up her dad’s We Honor Veterans ceremony at a restaurant he went to weekly. John and Lucy showed up much to the man’s surprise to perform the ceremony. He was a little more apprehensive than his wife and daughter about it until, as John puts it, his daughter laid down the law and told him he wasn’t getting out of it.

“It was kind of funny,” Lucy said. “Especially when we realized the guy they were talking about was the one standing in the corner with all these other people not letting him leave.”

“He realized it wasn’t a bad thing so he sat there next to his wife and let us do the ceremony,” John said.

Another example would be the man who was living in his ex-wife’s garage. He was a Vietnam veteran and had friends coming to town to celebrate his life, which seemed like the perfect time to do a pinning ceremony.

They presented him the certificate and he told them that was enough; that they didn’t need to do the whole presentation. But John continued. What followed was a few of the most memorable moments the Sterns have seen since the program began.

“His buddies were cheering him on,” Lucy said. “I think the most remarkable part was watching him try to be kind of macho…and he had a young teenage son. His dad is saying he doesn’t need this blanket thing and it didn’t matter. He might not have needed it but his son was like, ‘Dad, I’m taking that for me.’

“That sense of pride for what his dad did…then his dad was a whole lot different,” Lucy continued. “It was just amazing.”

While they’re both far too humble to admit it, what the Sterns have done for Angela Hospice has been pretty amazing too.

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