Life

After 10,000 hours volunteering at UnityPoint, Cedar Rapids woman not slowing down

Corinnie Ketelsen comforts a baby in the nursery at Nassif Center for Women’s & Children’s Health in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 22, 2019. Ketelsen has volunteered in the nursery for 16 years and volunteered at St. Luke’s since the late 1970s, for a total of over 10,000 hours served. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Corinnie Ketelsen comforts a baby in the nursery at Nassif Center for Women’s & Children’s Health in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 22, 2019. Ketelsen has volunteered in the nursery for 16 years and volunteered at St. Luke’s since the late 1970s, for a total of over 10,000 hours served. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When a newborn baby starts crying in the nursery at UnityPoint Health’s Nassif Center for Women’s & Children’s Health, it is often Corinnie Ketelsen who scoops them up to comfort them.

For 16 years, she’s been volunteering in the nursery, caring for babies, helping reassure anxious parents and acting as an extra set of hands for the nurses and doctors who work there.

“I love being around the babies,” she said. “And I know how much nurses have to do and how much of it is something someone else can do, so they’re not overworked or overstressed.”

Ketelsen, who worked as a school nurse before retiring, has volunteered at St. Luke’s since the late 1970s, working in the flower stall and gift shop before coming to the nursery. She recently completed her 10,000th hour of service at the hospital.

UnityPoint Health volunteer services program manager Angela Berns nominated Ketelsen for a United Way Lifetime of Volunteer Service Award. Award winners will be announced at the Time for Art: A Celebration of Volunteers event at Eastbank Venue & Lounge April 5.

“She’s wise, and she’s practical, and she’s no nonsense and keeps everyone on their feet, including me,” Berns said.

At 87 years old, Ketelsen said she’s not planning to stop volunteering anytime soon.

“I’ll keep doing this as long as I can,” she said with a laugh. “I’m 87, but I work like I’m 50.”

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Twice a week, starting at 6:30 a.m., Ketelsen is in the nursery, helping the maternity ward function.

“There is no normal day. It’s not just ‘sit and rock babies,’” she said.

There is some of that, but her other tasks, which she completes with brisk efficiency, include prepping and cleaning up before and after babies are seen and stocking supply cupboards. She also makes sure the babies are ready when doctors arrive, undressing and swaddling them, taking them from their rooms to the nursery and back again, and talking to the parents throughout the process.

“I never leave a room without saying ‘Is there something I can do for you?’” Ketelsen said.

A frequent task is helping with circumcisions. She checks on the babies after the surgery to make sure they’re doing well.

“I make sure the babies are clean and dry and happy,” she said.

Sometimes there are 20 to 30 newborns in the ward at once. Those are the day when Ketelsen’s services are especially appreciated. Nurse Kim Whiting said there are days when multiple circumcisions are scheduled, more than one doctor needs help and then all the babies start crying at once.

“Boy, do I know how valuable the volunteers are,” Whiting said. “It’s just peace of mind for me that there’s another person here. And Corinnie is just so at ease with the babies. I just don’t even have to worry when she’s here.”

Ketelsen knows firsthand the challenges nurses face. Originally from Center Point, she graduated from high school in 1949 and then nursing school in the 1953. She worked in pediatrics before taking a job as a school nurse. She worked for 25 years at several different Cedar Rapids schools.

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“I have always worked with children,” she said. “There weren’t a log of opportunities for females in 1949, and I didn’t want to be a housewife. I don’t like to stay home.”

When her own children graduated, she said she started looking for ways to fill her time. That’s how she first started volunteering in the hospital’s flower stall.

She also went back to school herself, earning a graduate degree in sociology from Coe College in 1973.

Her daughter Kathy Dunbar was a labor and delivery nurse there when Ketelsen moved from the gift shop to volunteering in the Women’s & Children’s Health building. The hospital didn’t have a volunteer program set up for the nursery at the time, so with Ketelsen’s help they created one.

“We was the first nursery volunteer — we may not have a nursery volunteer program without her,” Berns said. “She trains all the volunteers. They have to observe her for a whole shift.”

Ketelsen’s message to others?

“Anyone can volunteer, depending on what you enjoy and your skill level. There will be training and help,” she said.

A breast cancer survivor, she said she’s not taking anything for granted. When she’s not at the hospital, she enjoys making greeting cards, flower arranging, watching Hawkeye sports and spending time with her five grandchildren.

After her husband Cliff Ketelsen died last year, she said volunteering has been more important to her than ever.

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“I think every person in society who can and so desires should give back as much as they can. Every job you do, you learn more than you give,” she said. “When you love a job, it’s not a job. It’s an honor and a privilege.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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If you go

• What: Time For Art: A Celebration of Volunteers

• When: 5 p.m. April 5

• Where: Eastbank Venue & Lounge, 97 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Registration: (319) 398-5372, uweci.org/events-blog/event/2019-time-for-art-a-celebration-of-volunteer

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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