When Carole Jones’ husband, Frank, received a heart transplant in 1992, his doctors said it should buy him another three to five years of life.
Not satisfied with that prognosis, Carole Jones decided to negotiate for a little more time.
Spiritual, but not affiliated with any one church, the Tumwater area resident reached out to the Almighty.
“I said: Dear God, for every year you give us together, I’ll volunteer for three years,’” Jones said.
Well, the good news is Frank Jones lived another 15 years and 11 days, long enough to catch lots of fish, hold new grandchildren and watch his sons grow into successful men.
The bad news is Carole Jones was on the hook for 45 years of volunteering. She was 66 at the time of her husband’s death, so that would make her 111 before her volunteer duties are over.
So she renegotiated her informal contract, suggesting she’d keep giving back to the community in a variety of ways until she is 85.
Boy, is she ever living up to her end of the bargain.
At last count, Jones lends a helping hand to at least 15 community causes. She has something going on day and night every day except Wednesday, which she sets aside for herself.
For her efforts, she was named the 2013 United Way of Thurston County Volunteer of the Year.
“It’s just something I’ve always done,” the gregarious Jones said. “I think volunteerism is in my blood.”
Born in New York City in 1941, she moved as a child with her family to San Diego, where she took on her first volunteer job at Balboa Hospital as a “candy striper,” the phrase used at the time to describe female hospital volunteers and their red-and-white striped jumpsuits. That lasted from 1952-58. She’s been a Cub Scout den leader from 1969-82 and a big sister for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization from 2008-10.
Perhaps her greatest community service passion is helping with the Providence St. Peter Hospital Foundation’s No One Dies Alone program. Just as the name suggests, some 110 NODA volunteers sit with dying patients in their hospital rooms when there are no friends or family members at hand.
The program was launched in March 2009 after a 2008 survey showed as many as 40 percent of the dying patients at the hospital were alone when they passed, Frankie Shepherd, NODA program coordinator, said.
Jones makes herself available for the midnight-4 a.m. shift on little or no advance notice. Shepherd calls on her two or three times a month.
“Carol’s one of my go-to people,” Shepherd said. “She’s very reliable — always there for me and the nurses.”
Jones finds great satisfaction in the work, which she also extends to the Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice program.
She talks to dying patients, reads poetry, plays music or offers a soft caress to the shoulder or eyebrow.
“I find pleasure in what I do, even with the sadness,” she said. “I look at death as just another part of life.”
Since its inception, No One Dies Alone volunteers have been there in the final hours for 220 people. “It’s an honor to be with somebody that’s dying,” Shepherd said.
At other hours of the day and days of the week, here are some other examples of where you might find Jones. This is by no means an all-inclusive list:
• She’s incoming president and past president four times of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary No. 318. Her husband served 22 years in the Army, receiving two Purple Hearts and other awards during his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
• She participates in the United Way Reading Buddy program, spending about 45 minutes per week helping children with their literacy.
• She’s a bingo caller at area nursing homes and the Veterans Administration Hospital at American Lake. With her husky, booming voice, I’m sure she’s heard.
• She’s been an usher at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Olympia since 2000, a house manager at Olympia Little Theater since 2010 and a Harlequin Productions concessionaire since 2008. Yes, she is a bit dramatic, performing in the Readers Theater acting group, which raises funds for the Olympia Senior Center, since 2009.
• Then there’s her 46-year affiliation with the Alpha Chi Chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha, which raises funds for SafePlace, the Thurston County Food Bank, The Salvation Army, Easter Seals and other charitable causes.
Don’t you get tired just trying to keep up with all her activities, which also include time with family and overseas travel?
Don’t you think she’s living up to her end of the bargain?
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org